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The author wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the generous support 
of his researches by the Bollingen Foundation 

Printed in England by 
The Pitman Press Ltd., Bath 
and first published 1960 by 
Martin Seeker & Warburg Ltd. 
7J ohn Street, London 


Prologue: Toward a Natural History of the Gods 

and Heroes 3 

I. The Lineaments of a New Science 3 

II. The Well of the Past 5 

III. The Dialogue of Scholarship and Romance 8 


Introduction: The Lesson of the Mask 21 

Chapter I. The Enigma of the Inherited Image 30 

I. The Innate Releasing Mechanism 30 

II. The Supernormal Sign Stimulus 38 

Chapter 2. The Imprints of Experience 50 

I. Suffering and Rapture 50 

II. The Structuring Force of Life on Earth 57 

III. The Imprints of Early Infancy 61 

IV. The Spontaneous Animism of Childhood 78 

V. The System of Sentiments of the Local Group 88 

VI. The Impact of Old Age 118 



Chapter 3. The Culture Province of 

the High Civilizations 135 

I. The Proto- Neolithic: c. 7500-5500 B.C. 136 



II. The Basal Neolithic: c. 5500-4500 B.c. 138 

III. The High Neolithic: c. 4500-3500 B.c. 140 

IV. The Hieratic City-State: c. 3500-2500 B.C. 144 

Chapter 4. The Province of the Immolated Kings 151 

I. The Legend of the Destruction of Kash 151 

II. A Night of Shehrzad 161 

III. The King, and the Virgin of the Vestal Fire 165 

Chapter 5. The Ritual Love- Death ID 

I. The Descent and Return of the Maiden 170 

II. The Mythological Event 176 

III. Persephone 183 

IV. The Monster Eel 190 

V. Parallelism or Diffusion? 202 

VI. The Ritual Love- Death in Pre-Columbian America 216 



Chapter 6. Shamanism 229 

I. The Shaman and the Priest 229 

II. Shamanistic Magic 242 

III. The Shamanistic Vision 251 

IV. The Fire-Bringer 267 

Chapter 7. The Animal Master 282 

I. The Legend of the Buffalo Dance 282 

II. Paleolithic Mythology 286 

III. The Ritual of the Returned Blood 295 

Chapter 8. The Paleolithic Caves 299 

I. The Shamans of the Great Hunt 299 

II. Our Lady of the Mammoths 313 


III. The Master Bear 334 

IV. The Mythologies of the Two Worlds 347 


Chapter 9. Mythological Thresholds of 

the Paleolithic 357 

I. The Stage of Plesianthropus (<--600,000 B.c->) 357 

II. The Stage of Pithecanthropus (<-400,000 B.C.->) 360 

III. The Stage of Neanderthal Man (c. 200,000- 

75,000/25,000 B.c.) 365 

IV. The Stage of Cro-Magnon Man (c. 30,000- 

10,000 B.C.) 374 

V. The Capsian-Microlithic Style (c. 30,000/10,000- 

4000 B.C.) 379 

Chapter 10. Mythological Thresholds of 

the Neolithic 384 

I. The Great Serpent of the Earliest Planters 

(c. 7500 B.C.?) 384 

II. The Birth of Civ iliza tion in the Near East (c. 7500- 

2500 B.C.) 391 

III. The Great Diffusion 418 

Conclusion: The Functioning of Myth 461 

I. The Local Images and the Universal Way 461 

II. The Bondages of Love, Power, and Virtue 464 

III. The Release Horn Bondage 469 

Reference Notes 473 




Sign stimuli releasing parental reactions in man 47 

A child's drawing of his dream of the devil 79 

Pottery designs, c. 4000 B.C. 142 

Prevalence of ritual regicide (map) 167 

Designs from shell gorgets, Spiro Mound, Oklahoma 233 

Figures in the sanctuary of Trois Freres 287 

The Venus of Laussel 288 

The wizard-beast of Lascaux 300 

Figures in the crypt of Lascaux 30 1 

Ceremonial mask with horns (pointing sticks) 302 

Australians with pointing- stick horns 303 

The "Sorcerer of Trois Freres" 309 

The Venus of Lespugue 326 

The bear cult (map) 340 

C&psian hunting scene, Castellon 380 

Three women, Castellon 380 

Man with a dart, Castellon 381 

The "White Lady," Rhodesia 382 

Sketches for illustrations on pages 288, 300, 301, 
302, 303, 309, 326, 382 are by John L. Mackey, 





I. The Lineaments of a New Science 

The comparative study of the 
mythologies of the world compels us to view the cultural history 
of mankind as a unit; for we find that such themes as the fire- 
theft, deluge, land of the dead, virgin birth, and resurrected hero 
have a worldwide distribution— appearing everywhere in new 
combinations while remaining, like the elements of a kaleidoscope, 
only a few and always the same. Furthermore, whereas in tales 
told for entertainment such mythical themes are taken lightly — 
in a spirit, obviously, of play— they appear also in religious con- 
texts, where they are accepted not only as factually true but even 
as revelations of the verities to which the whole culture is a living 
witness and from which it derives both its spiritual authority and 
its temporal power. No human society has yet been found in which 
such mythological motifs have not been rehearsed in liturgies; in- 
terpreted by seers, poets, theologians, or philosophers; presented 
in art; magnified in song; and ecstatically experienced in life- 
empowering visions. Indeed, the chronicle of our species, from its 
earliest page, has been not simply an account of the progress of 
man the tool- maker, but— more tragically— a history of the pour- 
ing of blazing visions into the minds of seers and the efforts of 
earthly communities to incarnate unearthly covenants. Every peo- 
ple has received its own seal and sign of supernatural designation, 
communicated to its heroes and daily proved in the lives and ex- 




perience of its folk. And though many who bow with closed eyes 
in the sanctuaries of their own tradition rationally scrutinize and 
disqualify the sacraments of others, an honest comparison imme- 
diately reveals that all have been built from one fund of mytho- 
logical motifs— variously selected, organized, interpreted, and ritu- 
alized, according to local need, but revered by every people on 

A fascinating psychological, as well as historical, problem is 
thus presented. Man, apparently, cannot maintain himself in the 
universe without belief in some arrangement of the general in- 
heritance of myth. In fact, the fullness of his life would even seem 
to stand in a direct ratio to the depth and range not of his rational 
thought but of his local mythology. Whence the force of these 
unsubstantial themes, by which they are empowered to galvanize 
populations, creating of them civilizations, each with a beauty and 
self- compelling destiny of its own? And why should it be that 
whenever men have looked for something solid on which to found 
their lives, they have chosen not the facts in which the world 
abounds, but the myths of an immemorial imagination— preferring 
even to make life a hell for themselves and their neighbors, in the 
name of some violent god, to accepting gracefully the bounty the 
world affords? 

Are the modem civilizations to remain spiritually locked from 
each other in their local notions of the sense of the general tradi- 
tion; or can we not now break through to some more profoundly 
based point and counterpoint of human understanding? For it is 
a fact that the myths of our several cultures work upon us, whether 
consciously or unconsciously, as energy- releasing, life- motivating 
and -directing agents; so that even though our rational minds may 
be in agreement, the myths by which we are living— or by which 
our fathers lived— can be driving us, at that very moment, dia- 
metrically apart. 

No one, as far as I know, has yet tried to compose into a single 
picture the new perspectives that have been opened in the fields of 
comparative symbolism, religion, mythology, and philosophy by 
the scholarship of recent years. The richly rewarded archaeological 
researches of the past few decades; astonishing clarifications, sim- 



pliiications, and coordinations achieved by intensive studies in the 
spheres of philology, ethnology, philosophy, art history, folklore, 
and religion; ftesh insights in psychological research; and the many 
priceless contributions to our science by the scholars, monks, and 
literary mm of Asia, have combined to suggest a new image of 
the fundamental unity of the spiritual history of mankind. Without 
straining beyond the treasuries of evidence already on hand in 
these widely scattered departments of our subject, therefore, but 
simply gathering from them the membra disjuncta of a unitary 
mythological science, I attempt in the following pages the first 
sketch of a natural history of the gods and heroes, such as in its 
final form should include in its purview all divine beings— as zo- 
ology includes all animals and botany all plants— not regarding 
any as sacrosanct or beyond its scientific domain. For, as in the 
visible world of the vegetable and animal kingdoms, so also in the 
visionary world of the gods: there has been a history, an evolution, 
a series of mutations, governed by laws; and to show forth such 
laws is the proper aim of science. 

II. The Well of the Past 

Very deep," wrote Thomas Mann at the opening of his mytho- 
logically conceived tetralogy, Joseph and His Brothers, "is the 
well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?" And he then 
observed: "The deeper we sound, the further down into the lower 
world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the 
earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal 
themselves unfathomable ." 1 * 

Our initial task must be to ask if this be true. And to this end 
we shall explore first the psychological aspect of the question, to 
learn whether in the human psychosomatic system there have been 
found any structures or dynamic tendencies to which the origins 
of myth and ritual might be referred; and turn only then to the 
archaeological and ethnological evidences, to learn what the ear- 
liest discoverable patterns of mythological ideation may have been. 

However, as Mann has already warned, concerning the founda- 
tions for which we are seeking, "No matter to what hazardous 

* Numbered reference notes begin on page 473. 



lengths we let out our line they still withdraw, again and further into 
the depths." For beneath the first depth, namely that of the 
earliest civilizations— which are but the foreground of the long 
backward reach of the prehistory of our race— there rest the 
centuries, millenniums, indeed the centuries of millenniums of 
primitive man, the mighty hunter, the more primitive root- and- bug 
collector, back for more than half a million years. And there is a 
third depth, even deeper and darker, below that— below the 
ultimate horizon of humanity. For we shall find the ritual dance 
among the birds, the fish, the apes, and the bees. And it therefore 
has to be asked whether man, like those other members of the 
kingdom, does not possess any innate tendencies to respond, in 
strictly patterned racial ways, to certain signals flashed by his en- 
vironment and his own kind. 

The concept of a natural science of the gods, matching the 
compass of the materials already classified in the pertinent scientific 
files, must therefore include in its ken the primitive and pre- 
historic as well as recent strata of human experience; and not 
merely summarily and sketchily, as a kind of protasis to the main 
subject. For the roots of civilization are deep. Our cities do not 
rest, like stones, upon the surface. The first, rich, great, and terrible 
chapter in the textbook of this subject will have to be developed 
no less fully than the second, third, and fourth. And its range will 
be immensely greater than theirs; for it will extend into "the dark 
backward and abysm of time" that is the racial counterpart of that 
psychological unconscious which has been recently exposed— 
sensationally— within the individual. Fathoming the grottoes of the 
Cro-Magnon artist- wizards of the Great Hunt; deeper still, the dens 
of the crouching cannibals of the glacial ages, lapping the brains of 
their neighbors, raw, from cracked skulls; and still beyond, ex- 
amining the enigmatic chalky, skeletal remains of what now would 
seem to have been chimpanzee- like hunter- pygmies on the open 
plains of the early Transvaal, we shall be finding clues to the 
deepest secrets not only of the high cultures of both the Orient and 
the Occident, but also of our own most inward expectations, 
spontaneous responses, and obsessive fears. 



The present volume, therefore, explores with what light is avail- 
able the deep, very deep well of the past. And, like the aim of 
Bacon's Advancement of Learning, its intent is "to point out what 
part of knowledge has been already labored and perfected, and 
what portions left unfinished or entirely neglected." Moreover, 
where the view is broad and certain distinctive, suggestive land- 
marks can be descried, occasional guesses are ventured as to 
indicated implications. But the whole review— rich and colorful 
though its materials— together with its ventured hypotheses, is 
necessarily in the way rather of a prospectus than of a definition; 
for these materials have never before been gathered to a single 
summation, pointing to a science of the roots of revelation. 

Furthermore, after this study of the spiritual resources of pre- 
historic man, I shall in three subsequent volumes review the forms, 
successively, of Oriental mythology. Occidental mythology, and 
what 1 propose to call creative mythology, as representing the re- 
maining natural divisions of this subject. For under the rubric 
"Oriental" can be readily comprised all the traditions of that broad 
and various, yet essentially unified, major province represented 
by the philosophical myths and mythological philosophies of India, 
Southeast Asia, China, and J apan— to which can be joined the 
earlier yet closely related mythological cosmologies of archaic 
Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as the later, remoter, yet essentially 
comparable systems of pre-Columbian Middle America and Peru. 
And under the rubric "Occidental" the progressively, ethically 
oriented mythologies of Zoroastrianism, J udaism, Christianity, and 
Islam naturally fall, in relationship and counterplay to the Greco- 
Roman pantheons and the Celto- Germanic. And finally, as "creative 
mythology," will be considered that most important mythological 
tradition of the modem world, which can be said to have had its 
origin with the Greeks, to have come of age in the Renaissance, and 
to be flourishing today in continuous, healthy growth, in the works 
of those artists, poets, and philosophers of the West for whom the 
wonder of the world itself— as it is now being analyzed by science— 
is the ultimate revelation. 


Moreover, since it is true, as Mann has said, that while in the 
life of the human race the mythical is an early and primitive way 
of thought, in the life of the individual it is a late and mature one, 2 
an impressive accord will be heard resounding through all the 
modulations of this subject, from the primitive to the most mature. 

III. The Dialogue of Scholarship and Romance 

The quest for a scientific approach to mythology was hampered 
until the end of the last century by the magnitude of the field and 
scattered character of the evidence. The conflict of authorities, 
theories, and opinions that raged in the course, particularly, of the 
nineteenth century, when the ranges of knowledge were expanding 
in every field of research (classical and Oriental scholarship, 
comparative philology, folklore, Egyptology, Bible criticism, 
anthropology, etc.) resembled the mad tumult of the old Buddhist 
parable of "The Blind Men and the Elephant." The blind men 
feeling the animal's head declared, "An elephant is like a water 
pot"; but those at his ears, "He is like a winnowing basket"; those 
at his tusks, "No, indeed, he is like a plowshare"; and those at his 
trunk, "He is like a plow pole." There were a number feeling his 
belly. "Why," they cried, "he is like a storage bin!" Those feeling 
his legs argued that he was like pillars; those at his rectum, that 
he was like a mortar; those at his member, that he was like a 
pestle; while the remainder, at his tail, were shouting, "An 
elephant is like a fan." And they fought furiously among them- 
selves with their fists, shouting and crying, "This is what an 
elephant is like, that is not what an elephant is like"; "This is not 
what an elephant is like; that is what an elephant is like. " 

"And precisely so," then runs the moral of the Buddha, "the 
company of heretics, monks. Brahmans, and wandering ascetics, 
patient of heresy, delighting in heresy, relying upon the reliance of 
heretical views, are blind, without eyes: knowing not good, knowing 
not evil, knowing not right, knowing not wrong, they quarrel and 
brawl and wrangle and strike one another with the daggers of their 
tongues, saying, 'This is right, that is not right 1 ; 'This is not right, 
that is right.' " 3 

The two learned disciplines from which the lineaments of a 



sound comparative science might first have emerged were those of 
the classics and the Bible. However, a fundamental tenet of the 
Christian tradition made it appear to be an act of blasphemy to 
compare the two on the same plane of thought; for, while the 
myths of the Greeks were recognized to be of the natural order, 
those of the Bible were supposed to be supernatural. Hence, while 
the prodigies of the classical heroes (Herakles, Theseus, Perseus, 
etc.) were studied as literature, those of the Hebrews (Noah, 
Moses, Joshua, Jesus, Peter, etc.), had to be argued as objective 
history; whereas, actually, the fabulous elements common to the 
two precisely contemporaiy. Eastern Mediterranean traditions 
were derived equally from the preceding, bronze- age civilization 
of Mesopotamia— as no one before the development of the modem 
science of archaeology could have guessed. 

A third, and ultimately the most disturbing, discipline contribut- 
ing to the tumult of the scene was the rapidly developing science of 
Aryan, Indo- Germanic, or Indo-European Philology. As early as 
1767 a French Jesuit in India, Father Coeurdoux, had observed that 
Sanskrit and Latin were remarkably alike. 4 Sir William Jones 
(1746- 1794)— the West's first considerable Sanskritist, judge of 
the supreme court of judicature at Calcutta, and founder of the 
Bengal Asiatic Society— was the next to observe the relationship, 
and from a comparative study of the grammatical structures of 
Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit concluded that all three had "sprung," 
as he phrased it, "from some common source, which perhaps no 
longer exists." 5 Franz Bopp (1791-1867), published in 1816 a 
comparative study of the Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Persian, and 
Germanic systems of conjugation. 6 And finally, by the middle of 
the century it was perfectly clear that a prodigious distribution of 
closely related tongues could be identified over the greater part of 
the civilized world: a single, broadly scattered family of languages 
that must have spmng from a single source, and which includes, 
besides Sanskrit and Pali (the language of the Buddhist scriptures), 
most of the tongues of northern India as well as Singhalese (the 
language of Ceylon), Persian, Armenian, Albanian, and Bulgarian; 
Polish, Russian, and the other Slavic tongues; Greek, Latin and all 
the languages of Europe except Esthonian, Finnish, Lapp, Magyar, 



and Basque. Thus a continuum from Ireland to India had 
been revealed. And not only the languages, but also the civilizations 
and religions, mythologies, literary forms, and modes of thought 
of the peoples involved could be readily compared: for example, 
the Vedic pantheon of ancient India, the Eddie of medieval Iceland, 
and the Olympian of the Greeks. No wonder the leading scholars 
and philosophers of the century were impressed! 

The discovery appeared to indicate that the most productive, as 
well as philosophically mature, constellation of peoples in the 
history of civilization had been associated with this prodigious 
ethnic diffusion; for it seemed that even in the Orient, the homeland 
of many darker races, it had been the lighter- skinned Indo- Aryans 
who had given the chief impulse to the paramount cultural trend— 
namely that represented in its earliest recorded phase by the 
Sanskrit Vedas and the Vedic pantheon (so dose in form and spirit 
to the Homeric hymns and Olympic pantheon of the Greeks that 
the Alexandrians had had no difficulty in recognizing analogies), 
and in its later, more highly developed phase, by the gospel of 
Gautama Buddha, whose princely mind, inspired by what many 
scholars throughout Europe took to be a characteristically Aryan 
type of spirituality, had touched with magic the whole of the Orient, 
lifting temples and pagodas not to any God but to Buddhahood: 
that is to say, the purified, perfected, fully flowered, and fully 
illuminated consciousness of man himself. 

It was a fateful, potentially very dangerous discovery; for, even 
though announced in the terminology of tranquil scholarship, it 
coincided with a certain emotional tendency of the time. In the 
light of the numerous discoveries then being made in every quarter 
of the broadly opening fields of the physical, biological, and geo- 
graphical sciences, the mythological Creation story in the Old 
Testament could no longer be accepted as literally true. Already 
in the early seventeenth century the heliocentric universe had been 
condemned as contrary to Holy Scripture, both by Luther and by 
the Roman Catholic Inquisition: in the nineteenth century the 
tendency of the learned world was rather to reject Holy Scripture 
as contrary to fact. And with the Hebrew Scripture went the 
Hebrew God, and the Christian claim to divine authority as well. 



The Renaissance had opposed to the J udeo- Christian ideal of 
obedience to a supposed revelation of God's law, the humanism 
of the Greeks. And with the discovery, now, of this impressive 
ethnic continuity, uniting that humanism, on the one hand, with 
the profound, non-theological religiosity of the Indian Upanishads 
and Buddhist Sutras, and on the other hand, with the primitive 
vitality of the pagan Germans, who had shattered Christianized 
Rome only to be subdued and Christianized themselves in turn, 
the cause of the pagan against the J udeo- Christian portion of the 
European cultural inheritance seemed to be greatly enhanced. 
Moreover, since the evidence appeared to point to Europe itself as 
the homeland from which this profoundly inspired and vigorously 
creative spiritual tradition sprang— and, specifically, the area of 
the Germanies * — a shock of romantic European elation quivered 
through the scientific world. The Grimm brothers, Jacob and 
Wilhelm (1785-1863 and 1786-1859), gathered the fairy tales of 
their collection with the belief that there might be discovered in 
them the broken remains of a nuclear Indo-European mythology. 
Schopenhauer greeted the Sanskrit Upanishads as "the most re- 
warding and elevating reading possible in the world." 7 And 
Wagner found in the old Germanic mythologies of Wotan, Loki, 
Siegfried, and the Rhine- maidens the proper vehicle of his German 

Thus it was that when a couple of dilettantes with creative 
imagination brought this sensational product of philological re- 
search out of the studies of the scholars, where thought leads to 
further thought, into the field of political life, where thought leads 
to action and one thought is enough, a potentially very dangerous 
situation was created. The first step in this direction was taken in 

* For a modem review of this evidence, see Paul Thieme, "The Indo- 
European Language," Scientific American, Vol. 199, No. 4 (October 1958), 
pp. 63-74, and Peter Giles' article, "Indo-Europeans," Encyclopaedia Britan- 
nica, 14th edition (1929), Vol. 12, pp. 262-63. The homeland of the nu- 
clear folk is placed by Thieme in an area between the Vistula and the Elbe, 
in the late fourth millennium B.c., and by Giles roughly in the area of the 
old Austro-Hungarian Empire. A. Meillet and Marcel Cohen, on the other 
hand, in their great work on Les Langues du monde (Paris: H. Champion, 
1952), p. 6, place the area "in the plains of southern Russia and perhaps 
earlier in Central Asia." 



1839, when a French aristocrat, Courtet de l'lsle, proposed a 
theory of politics on the basis of what he conceived to be the new 
science, in a work entitled La Science politique fondee sur la science 
de l'homme; ou. Etude des races humaines (Paris: 1839). The 
tendency was developed in Count Arthur de Gobineau's four- 
volume Essai sur l'inegalite des races humaines (1853-1855), and 
Count Vacher de Lapouge's L'Aryen et son role social ( 1899 ), and 
required, finally, only the celebrated work of Wagner's English 
son-in-law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, The Foundations of the 
Nineteenth Century (1890-1891), to supply the background for 
Alfred Rosenberg’s Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930) and 
break the planet into flames. 

Clearly, mythology is no toy for children. Nor is it a matter of 
archaic, merely scholarly concern, of no moment to modem men 
of action. For its symbols (whether in the tangible form of images 
or in the abstract form of ideas) touch and release the deepest 
centers of motivation, moving literate and illiterate alike, moving 
mobs, moving civilizations. There is a real danger, therefore, in 
the incongruity of focus that has brought the latest findings of 
technological research into the foreground of modem life, joining 
the world in a single community, while leaving the anthropological 
and psychological discoveries from which a commensurable moral 
system might have been developed in the learned publications 
where they first appeared. For surely it is folly to preach to children 
who will be riding rockets to the moon a morality and cosmology 
based on concepts of the Good Society and of man's place in 
nature that were coined before the harnessing of the horse! And 
the world is now far too small, and men's stake in sanity too 
great, for any more of those old games of Chosen Folk (whether 
of J ehovah, Allah, Wotan, Manu, or the Devil) by which tribes- 
men were sustained against their enemies in the days when the 
serpent still could talk. 

The ghostly, anachronistic sounds of Aryan battle cries faded 
rapidly from the nineteenth- century theaters of learning as a 
broader realization of the community of man developed— due 
primarily to a mass of completely unforeseen information from the 
pioneers of archaeology and anthropology. For example, it soon 



appeared not only that the earliest Indo-European tribes must 
already have been mixed of a number of races, but also that the 
greater part of what had been taken to be of their invention 
actually had been derived from the earlier, very much more highly 
developed cultures of ancient Egypt, Crete, and Mesopotamia. 
Moreover, the worldwide diffusion of the major themes of classical 
as well as biblical mythology and religious lore— far beyond any 
possible influence either of Aryan or of Semite— so greatly mag- 
nified the frame of the prehistory of civilization that the old prob- 
lems, prides, and prejudices were rendered out of date. 

A sense of the import of these new discoveries for the nine- 
teenth-century image of man can be gained from a summary 
schedule of a number of representative moments; for example: 

1821 Jean Frangois Champollion derived from the Rosetta 
Stone the key to Egyptian hieroglyphics, thus unveiling 
a civilized religious literature earlier than the Greek 
and Hebrew by about two thousand years. 

1833 William Ellis, Polynesian Researches (4 vols.), 
opened to view the myths and customs of the South 
Sea Islands. 

1839 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Algic Researches (2 vols.), 

offered the first considerable collection of North Amer- 
ican Indian myths. 

1845-50 Sir Austen Henry Layard excavated ancient Nineveh 
and Babylon, opening the treasuries of the Mesopo- 
tamian civilization. 

1847-65 Jacques Boucher de Crevecoeur de Perthes, Antiquites 
celtiques et antediluviennes (3 vols.), established the 
existence of man in Europe in the Pleistocene Period 
(that is to say, more than a hundred thousand years 
ago) and, on the basis of his classification of flint tools, 
identified three Old Stone Age periods, which he 
termed: (1) "the Cave Bear Age, " (2) "the Mammoth 
and Woolly Rhinoceros Age," and (3) "the Reindeer 

1856 Johann Karl Fuhlrott discovered in a cave in eastern 
Germany the bones of Neanderthal Man (Homo nean- 
derthal ensis), mighty hunter of the Cave Bear and 
Mammoth Ages. 

Charles Darwin's great work. On the Origin of Species, 













-65 Edouard Lartet, in southern France, unearthed the re- 
mains of Cro-Magnon Man, by whom Neanderthal 
Man had been displaced in Europe during the Reindeer 
Age, at the end of the Pleistocene. 

The Popol Vuh, an ancient Central American mytho- 
logical text, was introduced to the learned world by the 
Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg. 

From this momentous decade of the sixties onward, 
the universality of the basic themes and motifs of my- 
thology was generally conceded, the usual assumption 
being that some sort of psychological explanation 
would presently be found; and so it was that from two 
remote quarters of the learned world the following 
comparative studies appeared simultaneously: in Phil- 
adelphia, Daniel G. Brinton's The Myths of the New 
World, comparing the primitive and high- culture my- 
thologies of the Old World and the New; and in Berlin, 
Adolf Bastian's Das Bestandige in den Menschenrassen 
und die Spielweite ihrer Veranderlichkedt, applying the 
point of view of comparative psychology and biology 
to the problems, first, of the "constants" and then of 
the "variables" in the mythologies of mankind. 

Edward B. Tylor, in his Primitive Culture: Researches 
into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Re- 
ligion, Language, Art, and Custom, directed a psycho- 
logical explanation of the concept of "animism" to a 
systematic interpretation of the whole range of primi- 
tive thought. 

85 Heinrich Schliemann, excavating Troy (Hissarlik) and 
Mycenae, probed the pre- Homeric, pre- classical levels 
of Greek civilization. 

Don Marcelino de Sautuola discovered on his property 
in northern Spain (Altamira) the magnificent cave- 
painting art of the Mammoth and Reindeer Ages. 

Sir James George Franc published the culminating 
work of this whole period of anthropological research. 
The Golden Bough. 

92 In Central J ava, on the Solo River, near Trinil, Eugene 
Dubois unearthed the bones and teeth of "the Missing 
Link," Pithecanthropus erectus ("the Ape-man who 
walks erect") — with a brain capacity halfway between 
that of the largest- brained gorilla (about 600 cc.) and 
that of the average modem man (about 1400 cc). 

Sir Arthur Evans commenced his Cretan excavations. 


1898 Leo Frobenius announced a new approach to the study 

of primitive cultures (the Kulturkreislehre, "culture 
area theory"), wherein he identified a primitive cul- 
tural continuum, extending from equatorial West 
Africa eastward, through India and Indonesia, Mela- 
nesia and Polynesia, across the Pacific to equatorial 
America and the northwest coast. 8 This was a radical 
challenge to the older "parallel development" or "psy- 
chological" schools of interpretation, such as Brinton, 
Bastian, Tylor, and Franc had represented, inasmuch 
as it brought the broad and bold theory of a primitive 
trans-oceanic "diffusion" to bear upon the question of 
the distribution of so-called "universal" themes. 

And so it was that, during that epochal century of almost un- 
believable spiritual and technological transformations, the old 
horizons were dissolved and the center of gravity of all learning 
shifted from the little areas of local pride to a broad science of man 
himself in his new and single world. The older, eighteenth- century 
disciplines, which formerly had seemed to fill sufficiently the field 
of humanistic concern, had become but provinces of a much larger 
subject. And whereas formerly the prime question seemed to have 
been that of man's supernatural as against merely natural endow- 
ment, now, with the recognition of the universality of those 
mythological themes that formerly had been taken as evidence of 
the divine source of the higher religions, "surpassing man's natural 
knowledge," as St. Thomas Aquinas argued, and therefore proving 
that "God is far above all that man can possibly think of God"; 9 
with the realization that these supernatural motifs were not peculiar 
to any single tradition but common to the religious lore of man- 
kind, the tension between "orthodox" and "gentile," "high" and 
"primitive," simply dissolved. And the major questions, the prob- 
lems of man's highest concern, now became, first, whether such 
mythological themes as death- and- resurrection, the virgin birth, 
and creation from nothing should be rationally dismissed as mere 
vestiges of primitive ignorance (superstitions), or, on the contrary, 
interpreted as rendering values beyond the faculty of reason 
(transcendent symbols) ; and, second, whether, as products of the 
spontaneous operations of the psyche, they can have appeared 
independently in various quarters of the world (theories of parallel 



development), or rather, as the inventions of particular times and 
persons, must have been spread about either by early migrations 
or by later commerce (theories of diffusion). 

Few in the nineteenth century were competent to face either of 
these questions without prejudice or to control the necessary 
evidence for their analysis; for the psychology of the time had 
simply not come into possession either of the information or of the 
hypotheses necessary for a probing of the psyche in depth. The 
eminent physiologist, psychologist, and philosopher Wilhelm Wundt 
(1832-1920), who in 1857 began lecturing at Heidelberg and in 
1875 at the University of Leipzig, masterfully reviewed the whole 
ethnological field from a psychological point of view in his 
numerous works on ethnological psychology (Volkerpsychologie); 
but he realized and frankly averred that the breadth and depth of 
this richly promising subject had not yet been adequately meas- 
ured. 10 A scientific probing of the psyche in depth, however, had 
already been initiated at the neurological clinic of Salpetriere, in 
Paris, where Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893), professor of 
pathological anatomy in the medical faculty of the university, was 
opening new horizons in his studies of hysteria, paralysis, brain 
disease, senility, and hypnosis. 11 The young Sigmund Freud 
(1856-1939) and Carl G. Jung (b. 1875) were among his pupils; 
and something of the force and direction of his researches may be 
judged from their distinguished careers in exploration of the dark, 
inaccessible reaches of the psyche. However, the application of 
the new realizations concerning the phenomenology of the "un- 
conscious" of the neurotic individual to a systematic interpretation 
of ethnological materials had to wait for the twentieth- century 
movement initiated by Jung's Wandlungen und Symbole der 
Libido (19 12), 12 and Freud's Totem und Tabu (19 13). 13 The 
orientations and researches of Wundt and Charcot prepared the 
way, but the full-scale application of the laws and hypotheses of 
the science of the unconscious to the fields of religion, prehistory, 
mythology and folklore, literature and the history of art, which 
has been one of the outstanding factors in the development of 
twentieth- century thought, we find only suggested as a richly 
promising possibility in the science of their day. 



And yet, as Thomas Mann observed in his important speech on 
"Freud and the Future," delivered in Vienna on the occasion of 
Dr. Sigmund Freud"s eightieth birthday, the profound and natural 
sympathy between the two spheres of literature and the science of 
the unconscious had for a long time existed unperceived. The 
romantic-biologic fantasies of Novalis (1772-1801); Schopen- 
hauer's dream psychology and philosophy of instinct (1788- 
1860); the Christian zeal of Kierkegaard (1813-1855), which had 
led him to extremes of penetrating psychological insight; Ibsen's 
view of the he as indispensable to life (1828-1906); and, above 
all, Nietzsche's translation of the metaphysical pretensions of 
theology, mythology, and moral philosophy into the language of 
an empirical psychology (1844-1900)— these not only anticipated, 
but in scope and richness sometimes even surpassed, the wonderful 
insights that were now being coolly systematized in the formidable 
hypotheses and terminologies of scientific exactitude. In fact, as 
Mann suggested in his somewhat ironical praise of the eminent 
scientist whose scientific exactitude had not permitted him to regard 
philosophy very highly, it might with justice even be claimed that 
the modem science of the unconscious no more than writes the 
quod erat demonstrandum to the whole great tradition of meta- 
physical and psychological insights represented by the romantic 
poets, poet-philosophers, and artists, who, throughout the course 
of the nineteenth century, had walked step by step alongside the 
men of analytical knowledge and experience. 14 

One thinks of Goethe, in every line of whose Faust there is 
evident a thoroughly seasoned comprehension of the force of the 
traditional symbolism of the psyche, in relation not only to individ- 
ual biography but also to the psychological dynamics of civilization. 
One thinks of Wagner, whose masterworks were conceived in a 
realization of the import of symbolic forms so far in advance of 
the allegorical readings suggested by the Orientalists and ethnolo- 
gists of his time that even with the dates before one (Wagner, 
1813-1883; Max Muller, 1823-1900; Sir James George Franc, 
1854-1941) it is difficult to think of the artist's work as having 
preceded the comparatively fumbling efforts of the men of science 
to interpret symbols. Or one thinks of Melville (1819-1891), 



captured by cannibals on the South Sea island of Nukahiva and 
even scheduled to become an item on the menu, in whose Moby 
Dick (1851) and Pierre (1852) the profundity of the author's 
psychological insight is rendered through an infallible use of the 
language of symbol. 

"The myth," as Thomas Mann has seen, and as many of the 
depth psychologists would agree, "is the foundation of life, the 
timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it 
reproduces its traits out of the unconscious." 15 But on the other 
hand— as any ethnologist, archaeologist, or historian would observe 
— the myths of the differing civilizations have sensibly varied 
throughout the centuries and broad reaches of mankind's residence 
in the world, indeed to such a degree that the "virtue" of one 
mythology has often been the "vice" of another, and the heaven of 
one the other's hell. Moreover, with the old horizons now gone 
that formerly separated and protected the various culture worlds 
and their pantheons, a veritable Gotterdammerung has flung its 
flames across the universe. Communities that once were comfort- 
able in the consciousness of their own mythologically guaranteed 
godliness find, abruptly, that they are devils in the eyes of their 
neighbors. Evidently some mythology of a broader, deeper kind 
than anything envisioned anywhere in the past is now required: 
some arcanum arcanorum far more fluid, more sophisticated, than 
the separate visions of the local traditions, wherein those mytholo- 
gies themselves will be known to be but the masks of a larger— all 
their shining pantheons but the flickering modes of a "timeless 
schema" that is no schema. 

But that, precisely, is the great mystery pageant only waiting to 
be noticed as it lies before us, so to say, in sections, in the halls and 
museums of the various sciences, yet already living, too, in the 
works of our greatest men of art. To make it serve the present 
hour, we have only to assemble— or reassemble— it in its full 
dimension, scientifically, and then bring it to life as our own, in the 
way of art: the way of wonder— sympathetic, instructive delight; 
not judging morally, but participating with our own awakened 
humanity in the festival of the passing forms. 

Part One 




The artist eye, as Thomas Mann 
has said , 1 has a mythical slant upon life; therefore, the mythological 
realm— the world of the gods and demons, the carnival of their 
masks and the curious game of "as if in which the festival of the 
lived myth abrogates all the laws of time, letting the dead swim 
back to life, and the "once upon a time" become the very present 
—we must approach and first regard with the artist's eye. For, 
indeed, in the primitive world, where most of the dues to the 
origin of mythology must be sought, the gods and demons are not 
concaved in the way of hard and fast, positive realities. A god 
can be simultaneously in two or more places— like a melody, or 
like the form of a traditional mask And wherever he comes, the 
impact of his presence is the same: it is not reduced through 
multiplication. Moreover, the mask in a primitive festival is 
revered and experienced as a veritable apparition of the mythical 
being that it represents— even though everyone knows that a man 
made the mask and that a man is wearing it. The one wearing it, 
furthermore, is identified with the god during the time of the ritual 
of which the mask is a part. He does not merely represent the god; 
he is the god. The literal fact that the apparition is composed of A, 
a mask, B, its reference to a mythical being, and C, a man, is dis- 
missed from the mind, and the presentation is allowed to work 
without correction upon the sentiments of both the beholder and 
the actor. In other words, there has been a shift of view from the 
logic of the normal secular sphere, where things are understood to 




be distinct from one another, to a theatrical or play sphere, where 
they are accepted for what they are experienced as being and the 
logic is that of "make believe" — "as if." 

We all know the convention, surely! It is a primary, spontaneous 
device of childhood, a magical device, by which the world can be 
transformed from banality to magic in a trice. And its inevitability 
in childhood is one of those universal characteristics of man that 
unite us in one family. It is a primary datum, consequently, of the 
science of myth, which is concerned precisely with the phenomenon 
of self-induced belief. 

"A professor," wrote Leo Frobenius in a celebrated paper on 
the force of the daemonic world of childhood, "is writing at his 
desk and his four-year-old little daughter is running about the 
room. She has nothing to do and is disturbing him So he gives her 
three burnt matches, saying, 'Here! Play!' and, sitting on the rug, 
she begins to play with the matches. Hansel, Gretel, and the witch. 
A considerable time elapses, during which the professor con- 
centrates upon his task undisturbed. But then, suddenly, the child 
shrieks in terror. The father jumps. What is it? What has hap- 
pened?' The little girl comes running to him, showing every sign 
of great fright. 'Daddy, Daddy,' she cries, 'take the witch away! I 
can't touch the witch any more!' " 

"An eruption of emotion," Frobenius observes, 

is characteristic of the spontaneous shift of an idea from the 
level of the sentiments (Gemut) to that of sensual conscious- 
ness (sinnliches Bewusstsein). Furthermore, the appearance 
of such an eruption obviously means that a certain spiritual 
process has reached a conclusion. The match is not a witch; 
nor was it a witch for the child at the beginning of the game. 
The process, therefore, rests on the fact that the match has 
become a witch on the level of the sentiments and the conclu- 
sion of the process coincides with the transfer of this idea to 
the plane of consciousness. The observation of the process 
escapes the test of conscious thought, since it enters conscious- 
ness only after or at the moment of completion. However, 
inasmuch as the idea is, it must have become. The process is 
creative, in the highest sense of the word; for, as we have seen, 
in a little girl a match can become a witch. Briefly stated. 



then: the phase of becoming takes place on the level of the 

sentiments, while that of being is on the conscious plane . 2 

This vivid, convincing example of a child's seizure by a witch 
while in the act of play may be taken to represent an intense degree 
of the daemonic mythological experience. However, the attitude of 
mind represented by the game itself, before the seizure supervened, 
also belongs within the sphere of our subject. For, as J. Huizinga 
has pointed out in his brilliant study of the play element in culture, 
the whole point, at the beginning, is the fun of play, not the rapture 
of seizure. "In all the wild imaginings of mythology a fanciful spirit 
is playing," he writes, "on the border-line between jest and 
earnest ." 3 "As far as I know, ethnologists and anthropologists 
concur in the opinion that the mental attitude in which the great 
religious feasts of savages are celebrated and witnessed is not one of 
complete illusion. There is an underlying consciousness of things 
'not being real.' " * And he quotes, among others, R. R. Marett, 
who, in his chapter on "Primitive Credulity" in The Threshold of 
Religion, develops the idea that a certain element of "make- 
believe" is operative in all primitive religions. "The savage, " wrote 
Marett, "is a good actor who can be quite absorbed in his role, like 
a child at play; and also, like a child, a good spectator who can be 
frightened to death by the roaring of something he knows perfectly 
well to be no 'real' lion ." 5 

"By considering the whole sphere of so-called primitive culture 
as a play-sphere," Huizinga then suggests in conclusion, "we pave 
the way to a more direct and more general understanding of its 
peculiarities than any meticulous psychological or sociological 
analysis would allow ." 6 And I would concur wholeheartedly with 
this judgment, only adding that we should extend the considera- 
tion to the entire field of our present subject. 

In the Roman Catholic mass, for example, when the priest, 
quoting the words of Christ at the Last Supper, pronounces the 
formula of consecration— with utmost solemnity— first over the 
wafer of the host (Hoc est enim Corpus meum: "for this is My 
Body"), then over the chalice of the wine (Hie est enim Calix 
Sanguinis med, novi et aetemi Teslamenti: Mysterium fidei: qui pro 



vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum: "For 
this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal testament: 
the mystery of faith: which shall be shed for you and for many 
unto the remission of sins"), it is to be supposed that the bread 
and wine become the body and blood of Christ, that every fragment 
of the host and every drop of the wine is the actual living Savior 
of the world. The sacrament, that is to say, is not conceived to be 
a reference, a mere sign or symbol to arouse in us a train of 
thought, but is God himself, the Creator, J udge, and Savior of the 
Universe, here come to work upon us directly, to free our souls 
(created in His image) from the effects of the Fall of Adam and 
Eve in the Garden of Eden (which we are to suppose existed as a 
geographical fact). 

Comparably, in India it is believed that, in response to con- 
secrating formulae, deities will descend graciously to infuse their 
divine substance into the temple images, which are then called their 
throne or seat (pltha). It is also possible— and in some Indian 
sects even expected— that the individual himself should become a 
seat of deity. In the Gandharva Tantra it is written, for example, 
"No one who is not himself divine can successfully worship a 
divinity"; and again, "Having become the divinity, one should 
offer it sacrifice ." 7 

Furthermore, it is even possible for a really gifted player to 
discover that everything— absolutely everything— has become the 
body of a god, or reveals the omnipresence of God as the ground 
of all being. There is a passage, for example, among the conversa- 
tions of the nineteenth- century Bengalese spiritual master Ra- 
makrishna, in which he described such an experience. "One day," 
he is said to have reported, "it was suddenly revealed to me that 
everything is Pure Spirit. The utensils of worship, the altar, the 
door frame— all Pure Spirit. Men, animals, and other living beings 
—all Pure Spirit. Then like a madman I began to shower flowers 
in all directions. Whatever I saw I worshiped ." 8 

Belief— or at least a game of belief— is the first step toward 
such a divine seizure. The chronicles of the saints abound in ac- 
counts of their long ordeals of difficult practice, which preceded 
their moments of being carried away; and we have also the more 



spontaneous religious games and exercises of the folk (the 
amateurs) to illustrate for us the principle involved. The spirit of 
the festival, the holiday, the holy day of the religious ceremonial, 
requires that the normal attitude toward the cares of the world 
should have been temporarily set aside in favor of a particular 
mood of dressing up. The world is hung with banners. Or in the 
permanent religious sanctuaries— the temples and cathedrals, 
where an atmosphere of holiness hangs permanently in the air— 
the logic of cold, hard fact must not be allowed to intrude and 
spoil the spell. The gentile, the "spoil sport," the positivist, who 
cannot or will not play, must be kept aloof. Hence the guardian 
figures that stand at either side of the entrances to holy places: 
lions, bulls, or fearsome warriors with uplifted weapons. They are 
there to keep out the "spoil sports," the advocates of Aristotelean 
logic, for whom A can never be B; for whom the actor is never to 
be lost in the part; for whom the mask, the image, the consecrated 
host, tree, or animal cannot become God, but only a reference. 
Such heavy thinkers are to remain without. For the whole purpose 
of entering a sanctuary or participating in a festival is that one 
should be overtaken by the state known in India as "the other 
mind" (Sanskrit, anya-manas: absent-mindedness, possession by a 
spirit), where one is "beside oneself," spellbound, set apart from 
one's logic of self-possession and overpowered by the force of a 
logic of "indissociation"— wherein A is B, and C also is B. 

"One day," said Ramakrishna, "while worshiping Shiva, I 
was about to offer a bel-leaf on the head of the image, when it was 
revealed to me that this universe itself is Shiva. Another day, I 
had been plucking flowers when it was revealed to me that each 
plant was a bouquet adorning the universal form of God. That 
was the end of my plucking flowers. I look on man in just the 
same way. When I see a man, I see that it is God Himself, who 
walks on earth, rocking to and fro, as it were, like a pillow floating 
on the waves." 9 

From such a point of view the universe is the seat (pitha) of a 
divinity from whose vision our usual state of consciousness ex- 
cludes us. But in the playing of the game of the gods we take a 
step toward that reality— which is ultimately the reality of our- 



selves. Hence the rapture, the feelings of delight, and the sense of 
refreshment, harmony, and re-creation! In the case of a saint, the 
game leads to seizure— as in the case of the little girl, to whom 
the match revealed itself to be a witch. Contact with the orienta- 
tion of the world may then be lost, the mind remaining rapt in 
that other state. For such it is impossible to return to this other 
game, the game of life in the world. They are possessed of God; 
that is all they know on earth and all they need to know. And they 
can even infect whole societies, so that these, inspired by their 
seizures, may likewise break contact with the world and spurn it 
as delusory, or as evil. Secular life then may be read as a fall— a 
fall from Grace, Grace being the rapture of the festival of God. 

But there is another attitude, more comprehensive, which has 
given beauty and love to the two worlds: that, namely, of the 
111a, "the play," as it has been termed in the Orient. The world is 
not condemned and shunned as a fall, but voluntarily entered as 
a game or dance, wherein the spirit plays. 

Ramakrishna closed his eyes. "Is it only this?" he said. "Does 
God exist only when the eyes are closed, and disappear when the 
eyes are opened?" He opened his eyes. "The Play belongs to Him 
to whom Eternity belongs, and Eternity to Him to whom the 
Play belongs. . . . Some people climb the seven floors of a 
building and cannot get down; but some climb up and then, at 
will, visit the lower floors." 10 

The question then becomes only: How far down or up the 
ladder can one go without losing the sense of a game? Professor 
Huizinga, in his work already referred to, points out that in J apa- 
nese the verb asobu, which refers to play in general— recreation, 
relaxation, amusement, trip or jaunt, dissipation, gambling, lying 
idle, or being unemployed— also means to study at a university or 
under a teacher; likewise, to engage in a sham fight; and finally, to 
participate in the very strict formalities of the tea ceremony. He 

The extraordinary earnestness and profound gravity of the 
J apanese ideal of life is masked by the fashionable fiction that 
everything is only play. Like the chevalerie of the Christian 
Middle Ages, J apanese bushido took shape almost entirely in 



the play-sphere and was enacted in play-forms. The language 
still preserves this conception in the asobase-kotoba (literally 
play- language) or polite speech, the mode of address used in 
conversation with persons of higher rank. The convention is 
that the higher classes are merely playing at all they do. 'The 
polite form for "you arrive in Tokyo" is, literally, "you play 
arrival in Tokyo"; and for "I hear that your father is dead," 

"I hear that your father has played dying. " In other words, the 
revered person is imagined as living in an elevated sphere 
where only pleasure or condescension moves to action. 11 

From this supremely aristocratic point of view, any state of 
seizure, whether by life or by the gods, must represent a fall or 
drop of spiritual niveau, a vulgarization of the play. Nobility of 
spirit is the grace— or ability— to play, whether in heaven or on 
earth. And this, I take it, this noblesse oblige, which has always 
been the quality of aristocracy, was precisely the virtue (aperf)) of 
the Greek poets, artists, and philosophers, for whom the gods were 
true as poetry is true. We may take it also to be the primitive (and 
proper) mythological point of view, as contrasted with the heavier 
positivistic; which latter is represented, on the one hand, by re- 
ligious experiences of the literal sort, where the impact of a 
daemon, rising to the plane of consciousness from its place of 
birth on the level of the sentiments, is taken to be objectively real, 
and, on the other, by science and political economy, for which 
only measurable facts are objectively real. For if it is true, as the 
Greek philosopher Antisthenes (bom c. 444 B.c.) has said, that 
"God is not like anything: hence no one can understand him by 
means of an image," 12 or, as we read in the Indian Upanishad, 

It is other, indeed, than the known 
And, moreover, above the unknown! 13 

then it must be conceded, as a basic principle of our natural his- 
tory of the gods and heroes, that whenever a myth has been taken 
literally its sense has been perverted; but also, reciprocally, that 
whenever it has been dismissed as a mere priestly fraud or sign of 
inferior intelligence, truth has slipped out the other door. 

And so what, then, is the sense that we arc to seek, if it be 
neither here nor there? 



Kant, in his Prolegomena to Every Future System of Meta- 
physics, states very carefully that all our thinking about final things 
can be only by way of analogy. "The proper expression for our 
fallible mode of conception," he declares, "would be: that we 
imagine the world as if its being and inner character were derived 
from a supreme mind" (italics mine ). 14 

Such a highly played game of "as if' frees our mind and spirit, 
on the one hand, from the presumption of theology, which pre- 
tends to know the laws of God, and, on the other, from the bond- 
age of reason, whose laws do not apply beyond the horizon of 
human experience. 

I am willing to accept the word of Kant, as representing the 
view of a considerable metaphysician. And applying it to the 
range of festival games and attitudes just reviewed— from the 
mask to the consecrated host and temple image, transubstanti- 
ated worshiper and transubstantiated world— I can see, or be- 
lieve I can see, that a principle of release operates throughout the 
series by way of the alchemy of an "as if; and that, through this, 
the impact of all so-called "reality" upon the psyche is transub- 
stantiated. The play state and the rapturous seizures sometimes 
deriving from it represent, therefore, a step rather toward than 
away from the ineluctable truth; and belief— acquiescence in a 
belief that is not quite belief— is the first step toward the deep- 
ened participation that the festival affords in that general will to 
life which, in its metaphysical aspect, is antecedent to, and the 
creator of, all life's laws. 

The opaque weight of the world— both of life on earth and of 
death, heaven, and hell— is dissolved, and the spirit freed, not 
from anything, for there was nothing from which to be freed ex- 
cept a myth too solidly believed, but for something, something 
fresh and new, a spontaneous act. 

From the position of secular man (Homo sapiens), that is to 
say, we are to enter the play sphere of the festival, acquiescing in 
a game of belief, where fun, joy, and rapture rule in ascending 
series. The laws of life in time and space— economics, politics, and 
even morality— will thereupon dissolve. Whereafter, re-created 
by that return to paradise before the Fall, before the knowledge 


of good and evil, right and wrong, true and false, belief and dis- 
belief, we are to carry the point of view and spirit of man the 
player (Homo ludens) back into life; as in the play of children, 
where, undaunted by the banal actualities of life's meager possi- 
bilities, the spontaneous impulse of the spirit to identify itself 
with something other than itself for the sheer delight of play, 
transubstantiates the world— in which, actually, after all, things 
are not quite as real or permanent, terrible, important, or logical 
as they seem. 




I. The Innate Releasing Mechanism 

A number of popular moving-picture films have shown the amaz- 
ing phenomenon of the laying and hatching of the eggs of the sea 
turtle. The female leaves the water and crawls to a point on the 
beach safely above the tide line, where she digs a hole, deposits 
hundreds of eggs, covers the nest, and turns back to the sea After 
eighteen days a multitude of tiny turtles come flipping up through 
the sand and, like a field of sprinters at the crack of the gun, make 
for the heavily crashing waves as fast as they can, while gulls 
drop screaming from overhead to pick them off. 

No more vivid representation could be desired of spontaneity 
and the quest for the not-yet-seen. There is no question here of 
learning, trial- and- error; nor are the tiny things afiaid of the great 
waves. They know that they must hurry, know how to do it, and 
know precisely where they are going. And finally, when they enter 
the sea, they know immediately both how to swim and that swim 
they must 

Students of animal behavior have coined the term "innate re- 
leasing mechanism" (IRM) to designate the inherited structure 
in the nervous system that enables an animal to respond thus to 
a circumstance never experienced before, and the factor triggering 
the response they term a "sign stimulus" or "releaser." It is ob- 
vious that the living entity responding to such a sign cannot be 
said to be the individual, since the individual has had no previous 




knowledge of the object to which it is reacting. The recognizing 
and responding subject is, rather, some sort of trans- or super- 
individual, inhabiting and moving the living creature. Let us not 
speculate here about the metaphysics of this mystery; for, as 
Schopenhauer sagely remarks in his paper on The Will in Nature, 
"we are sunk in a sea of riddles and inscrutables, knowing and 
understanding nether what is around us nor ourselves." 

Chicks with their eggshells still adhering to their tails dart for 
cover when a hawk flies overhead, but not when the bird is a gull 
or duck, heron or pigeon. Furthermore, if the wooden model of a 
hawk is drawn over their coop on a wire, they react as though 
it were alive— unless it be drawn backward, when there is no re- 

Here we have an extremely precise image— never seen before, 
yet recognized with reference not merely to its form but to its 
form in motion, and linked, furthermore, to an immediate, un- 
planned, unlearned, and even unintended system of appropriate 
action: flight, to cover. The image of the inherited enemy is al- 
ready sleeping in the nervous system, and along with it the well- 
proven reaction. Furthermore, even if all the hawks in the world 
were to vanish, their image would still sleep in the soul of the 
chick— never to be roused, however, unless by some accident of 
art; for example, a repetition of the clever experiment of the 
wooden hawk on a wire. With that (for a certain number of genera- 
tions, at any rate) the obsolete reaction of the flight to cover would 
recur; and, unless we knew about the earlier danger of hawks to 
chicks, we should find the sudden eruption difficult to explain. 
"Whence," we might ask, "this abrupt seizure by an image to 
which there is no counterpart in the chicken's world? Living gulls 
and ducks, herons and pigeons, leave it cold; but the work of art 
strikes some very deep chord!" 

Have we here a due to the problem of the image of the witch in 
the nervous system of the child? Some psychologists would say so. 
C. G. Jung for example, identifies two fundamentally different 
systems of unoonsdously motivated response in the human being. 
One he terms the personal unconsdous. It is based on a context 
of forgotten, neglected, or suppressed memory images derived from 



personal experience (infantile impressions, shocks, frustrations, 
satisfactions, etc. ), such as Sigmund Freud recognized and analyzed 
in his therapy. The other he names the collective unconscious. Its 
contents— which he calls archetypes— are just such images as that 
of the hawk in the nervous system of the chick. No one has yet 
been able to tell us how it got there; but there it is! 

"A personal image," he writes, "has neither archaic character 
nor collective significance, but expresses unconscious contents of 
a personal nature and a personally conditioned conscious inclina- 

"The primary image (urtiimliches Bild), which I have termed 
'archetype,' is always collective, i.e. common to at least whole 
peoples or periods of history. The chief mythological motifs of all 
times and races are very probably of this order; for example, in 
the dreams and fantasies of neurotics of pure Negro stock I have 
been able to identify a series of motifs of Greek mythology. 

"The primary image," he then suggests, "is a memory deposit, 
an engram, derived from a condensation of innumerable similar 
experiences . . . the psychic expression of an anatomically, physi- 
ologically determined natural tendency." 1 

J ung's idea of the "archetypes" is one of the leading theories, 
today, in the field of our subject. It is a development of the earlier 
theory of Adolf Bastian (1826-1905), who recognized, in the 
course of his extensive travels, the uniformity of what he termed 
the "elementary ideas" (Elementargedanke) of mankind. Remark- 
ing also, however, that in the various provinces of human culture 
these ideas are differently articulated and elaborated, he coined 
the term "ethnic ideas" (Volkergedanke) for the actual, local 
manifestations of the universal forms. Nowhere, he noted, are the 
"elementary ideas" to be found in a pure state, abstracted from 
the locally conditioned "ethnic ideas" through which they are sub- 
stantialized; but rather, like the image of man himself, they are 
to be known only by way of the rich variety of their extremely 
interesting, frequently startling, yet always finally recognizable 
inflections in the panorama of human life. 

Two possibilities of emphasis are implicit in this observation of 
Bastian. The first we may term the psychological and the second 



the ethnological; and these can be taken to represent, broadly, the 
two contrasting points of view from which scientists, scholars, and 
philosophers have approached our subject. 

"First," wrote Bastian, "the idea as such must be studied . . . 
and as second factor, the influence of climatic- geological condi- 
tions." 2 Only after that, as a third factor, according to his view, 
could the influence upon one another of the various ethnic tradi- 
tions throughout the course of history be profitably surveyed. Bas- 
tian, that is to say, stressed the psychological, spontaneous aspect 
of culture as primary; and this approach has been the usual one 
of biologists, medical men, and psychologists to the present day. 
Briefly stated, it assumes that there is in the structure and func- 
tioning of the psyche a certain degree of spontaneity and conse- 
quent uniformity throughout the history and domain of the human 
species— an order of psychological laws inhering in the structure 
of the body, which has not radically altered since the period of the 
Aurignacian caves and can be as readily identified in the jungles 
of Brazil as in the cafes of Paris, as readily in the igloos of Baffin 
Land as in the harems of Marrakech. 

But on the other hand, if climate, geography, and massive so- 
cial forces are to be regarded as of more moment in the shaping 
of the ideas, ideals, fantasies, and emotions by which men live 
than the innate structures and capacities of the psyche, then a 
diametrically contrary philosophical position must be assumed. 
Psychology in this case becomes a function of ethnology; or, to 
quote one representative authority, A. R. Radcliffe- Brown, in his 
work on The Andaman Islanders: 

A society depends for its existence on the presence in the 
minds of its members of a certain system of sentiments by 
which the conduct of the individual is regulated in conformity 
with the needs of the society. Every feature of the social system 
itself and every event or object that in any way affects the 
well-being or the cohesion of the society becomes an object 
of this system of sentiments. In human society the sentiments 
in question are not innate but are developed in the individual 
by the action of the society upon him [italics mine]. The cere- 
monial customs of a society are a means by which the senti- 
ments in question are given collective expression on appropri- 



ate occasions. The ceremonial (i.e. collective) expression of 
any sentiment serves both to maintain it at the requisite degree 
of intensity in the mind of the individual and to transmit it 
from one generation to another. Without such expression the 
sentiments involved could not exist. 3 

It will be readily seen that in such a view the ceremonials and 
mythologies of the differing societies are in no sense manifestations 
of psychologically grounded "elementary ideas," common to the 
human race, but of interests locally conditioned; and the funda- 
mental contrast of the two approaches is surely clear. 

Was the little girl's reaction to the idea of the witch that she 
had conjured into her mind comparable to the chick's reaction to 
the fashioned image of a hawk? Or should we say, rather, that be- 
cause she had been brought up on the fairy tales collected by the 
Brothers Grimm, she had learned to associate certain imagined 
dangers with a German fictional character and these alone were 
the cause of her fright? 

Before being satisfied that we know the answer, we must con- 
sider seriously the now well-proven fact that the human nervous 
system was the governor, guide, and controller of a nomadic hunter, 
foraging for his food and protecting himself and his family from 
becoming food in a very dangerous world of animals, for the first 
600,000 years of its development; whereas it has been serving 
comparatively safe and sane farmers, merchants, professors, and 
their children for scarcely 8000 years (a segment of less than P /2 
per cent of the known arc). Who will claim to know what sign 
stimuli smote our releasing mechanisms when our names were not 
Homo sapiens but Pithecanthropus and Plesianthropus, or per- 
haps even— millenniums earlier— Dryopithecus? And who that 
has knowledge of the numerous vestigial structures of our anatomy, 
surviving from the days when we were beasts (for example, the 
muscles of the caudal vertebrae that once wagged our tail), would 
doubt that in the central nervous system comparable vestiges must 
remain: images sleeping, whose releasers no longer appear in na- 
ture— but might occur in art? 

As N. Tinbergen has so well advised in his introductory lectures 
on The Study of Instinct, since generalization based on too narrow 



a foundation tends to give rise to unnecessary controversy, special 
emphasis should be placed on the importance of a complete in- 
ventory of the behavior patterns of a species before conclusions are 
announced . 4 For the problem of the relationship of innate to con- 
ditioned behavior is far from resolved even for animal species 
very much less complicated than our own. Nor can general laws 
be announced for the animal world that will necessarily be valid 
from one species to the next. 

The young of the cuckoo, hatched from an egg laid in the nest 
of another species and without previous experience of its own 
kind, when it is fledged flocks only with cuckoos— all of which, 
likewise, have been raised in the nests of other birds and have 
never been taught to recognize their own kind. But, on the other 
hand, a duckling will attach itself, as to a parent, to the first crea- 
ture that greets its eye when it leaves the egg— for example, a 
mother hen. 

The case of the cuckoo, like that of the chicks responding to 
the hawk, or of the turtles rushing for the sea, illustrates the first 
point to be emphasized in our brief consideration of this problem 
of the physiology of the inherited image; namely, the now well- 
demonstrated fact, already noted, that in the central nervous sys- 
tems of all animals there exist innate structures that are somehow 
counterparts of the proper environment of the species. The Gestalt 
psychologist Wolfgang Kohler has termed these structures in the 
central nervous system "isomorphs." The animal, directed by in- 
nate endowment, comes to terms with its natural environment not 
as a conseguence of any long, slow learning through experience, 
through trial- and- error, but immediately and with the certainty 
of recognition. The case of the duckling, on the other hand, illus- 
trates a second point that must be noted if we are to appreciate 
the relevance of these studies to our own problem of the mytho- 
logical archetypes; namely, the fact that although in many instances 
the sign stimuli that release animal responses are immutable and 
correspond to the inner readiness of the creature as precisely as 
key to lock (in fact, have been termed "key-tumbler" structures), 
there also are systems of response that are established by indi- 
vidual experience. In such the structure of the IRM is described 



as "open." It is susceptible to "impression" or "imprint" (.Pra- 
gung). Moreover— as in the instance of the duckling— where these 
"open structures" exist the first imprint is definitive, requires some- 
times less than a minute for its completion, and is irreversible. 

Furthermore, according to Professor Tinbergen, who has given 
particular attention to the problem of animal learning, not only 
do differing species have different dispositions to learn, but such 
innate dispositions come to maturity only in certain critical periods 
of the animal's growth. "The Eskimo dogs of east Greenland," he 
writes, for example, 

live in packs of five to ten individuals. The members of a pack 
defend their group territory against all other dogs. All dogs of 
an Eskimo settlement have an exact and detailed knowledge 
of the topography of the territories of other packs; they know 
where attacks from other packs must be feared. Immature 
dogs, however, do not defend the territory. Moreover, they 
often roam through the whole settlement, very often trespass- 
ing into other territories, where they are promptly chased. In 
spite of these frequent attacks, during which they may be 
severely treated, they do not learn the territories' topography 
and for the observer their stupidity in this respect is amazing. 
While the young dogs are growing sexually mature, however, 
they begin to learn the other territories and within a week 
their trespassing adventures are over. In two male dogs the 
first copulation, the first defence of territory, and the first 
avoidance of strange territory, all occurred within one week . 5 

After the work of Sigmund Freud and his school on the stages 
of the maturation of the human infant and the force of the im- 
prints acquired in those stages on the responses of the individual 
throughout life, it will hardly be necessary to argue the relevance 
of the concepts of "inner readiness" and "imprint" to the sphere 
of human learning. Much of what the infant has to learn, further- 
more, resembles remarkably the sociology of the Eskimo huskies, 
since it has to do largely with the various aspects of group affilia- 
tion. There is, however, in the human sphere a factor that makes 
all study of instinct and innate structures extremely difficult; for, 
whereas even the animals most helpless at birth mature very 
quickly, the human infant is utterly helpless during the first dozen 



years of its existence and, during this period of the maturation of 
its character, is completely subject to the pressures and imprints 
of its local society. In fact, as Adolf Portmann, of Basel, has so 
well and frequently pointed out, precisely those three endowments 
of erect posture, speech, and thought, which elevate man above 
the animal sphere, develop only after birth, and consequently, in 
the structure of every individual, represent an indissoluble amal- 
gam of innate biological and impressed traditional factors. We 
cannot think of one without the other. 

And so, in the name of science, let us not try to do so! 

It is possible, of course, to identify even in man a certain num- 
ber of innate "key-tumbler" responses: that of the infant to the 
nipple, for example. It is obvious, also, that in man, just as in the 
lower animals, there are certain "central excitatory mechanisms" 
(CEMs), which receive stimulation both from within and from 
without and move the individual to "appetitive behavior"— some- 
times even against his better judgment. A manifest example is the 
response of the sexual appetite to the stimulus of certain hormones 
(e.g., testosterone propionate and estrogen) and the reaction, 
then, even of the innocent individual, to the sign stimuli so well 
known to the whole species. These phenomena, I should say, re- 
quire no laboratory tests to warrant our regard. But it must not be 
forgotten that the entire instinct structure of man is much more 
open to learning and conditioning than that of animals, so that when 
evaluating human behavior we have always a very much stronger 
factor of individual experience to consider than when measuring 
the central excitatory mechanisms (CEMs) and the innate releas- 
ing mechanisms (IRMs) of insect, fish, bird— or even ape. 

This important fact may help to clarify the main lines of the 
problem announced in Bastian's contrast of elementary with ethnic 
ideas. The elementary, or innate, ideas we must interpret, I be- 
lieve, as a reference, in nineteenth- century terms, to what now 
would be called the innate neurological structures (CEMs and 
IRMs) of the biological species Homo sapiens: those inherited 
structures in the central nervous system that constitute the ele- 
mentary foundations of all human experience and reaction. The 
ethnic ideas, on the other hand, refer to the historically conditioned 



context of sign stimuli through which the activities of man, in 
any given society, are released. But since there is no such thing 
as man qua "Man," abstracted from all sociological conditioning, 
there are very few examples of unimprinted sign stimuli on the 
level of human ethology— and this is what has made it possible 
for students of the phenomenology of our species to write, some- 
times, as though there were in the human race no inherited struc- 
turing system whatsoever. It is now, however, a thoroughly proven 
fact that the human mind is by no means the mere tabula rasa of 
seventeenth- century epistemology. Indeed, quite the contrary! It 
is an aggregate of a great many predicating structures, each with 
its own readiness of response. The mere fact that they are more 
open than their animal homologues to individual experience must 
not be allowed to distract us from the more basic fact of their 
existence— or of their force in establishing and maintaining those 
basic similarities in human culture the world over which are vastly 
more massive than the variations. But equally, and on the other 
hand, we must not be quick to suppose that because an extensive, 
or even universal, distribution has been established for any given 
sign stimulus, this then may be regarded as innate and not im- 

II. The Supernormal Sign Stimulus 

It is by now a commonplace of biological thought to observe 
that man, in his character as animal, is bom at least a year too 
soon, completing in the sphere of society a development that other 
species accomplish within the womb. It has been observed that our 
hairlessness is a fetal trait, that our numerous psychological diffi- 
culties are functions of the prematurity of our birth, and that— to 
use Nietzsche's picturesque term— we cannot but expect to remain 
das kranke Tier, "the sick animal," throughout life and to the end 
of our days. It was the great French naturalist Buffon (1707- 
1788), I believe, who first remarked that "man is no more than a 
decadent ape." And it was a Dutch anatomist, Ludwig Bolk, who, 
in 1926, in a work entitled The Problem of Human Incarnation, 
gave a scientific foundation to this idea by showing that mutations 
inhibiting maturation actually occur in animals, and suggesting that 



the evolution of man must have been effected by a series of such 
modifications. According to Bolk's view, man has been arrested 
at a stage of growth represented by a late phase in the develop- 
ment of the embiyo of a chimpanzee . 8 

A more generous view, however, recognizes in the hairlessness 
of our species the enhancement of the skin as a sense organ and of 
the parts of the body as fod of optical interest. For in man the 
sensory nerves running through the spine are much more numerous 
than in any of the furry tribes, while the range and subtlety of the 
sign stimuli afforded not only by our nakedness but also by our 
various modes of covering and uncovering it evoke responses of 
considerably more diversity than those of mere animal appetite 
and consummation. The hairless face has become an organ of ex- 
quisite mobility, capable of a range and refinement of social sig- 
naling infinitely more versatile than the sorial "releasers" (the 
bird cries, flourished antlers, and tail-flashes) of the animal king- 
dom. The mutation, that is to say, was not negative but positive; 
and the long gestation, going beyond the capadty of the mother's 
womb to support it, was the consequence of an advance. For, as 
Schopenhauer declares, "All great things mature slowly." 

And are we to forget, furthermore, the rapid growth, during 
the first year of extra- uterine life, of this wonderful head and 
brain? It is perfectly true that, because of the prematurity of our 
birth, we do not have as many stereotyped, key- tumbler responses 
as the other vertebrates, and that, having consequently a more 
open reflex structure than they, we are less rigidly patterned in 
our instincts, less conservative, dependable, and secure than the 
animals. But on the other hand, we do have this developed brain, 
which is three times as great in size as its nearest rival and has 
given us not only new knowledge (including that of our own in- 
evitable death), but also a capacity to control and even to inhibit 
our responses. 

Best of all, however, is the gift of immaturity itself, which has 
enabled us to retain in our best, most human, moments the ca- 
pacity for play. In puppyhood animals show a capacity for play, 
when they are protected from the dreadful seriousness of the 
wilderness by the guardianship of parents; and practically all make 



a charming display of it again in courtship. However, in man— or 
perhaps we should say, rather, in the best of men, though indeed 
in the majority of women— the capacity is retained throughout 
life. It is, in fact, only those who have failed, one way or another, 
in their manhood or womanhood, who become our penny- dreadfuls, 
our gorillas and baboons. In a highly suggestive paragraph, the 
animal psychologist Konrad Lorenz presents an excellent statement 
of our indebtedness to this capacity of ours for play, reminding us 

Every study undertaken by Man was the genuine outcome 
of curiosity, a kind of game. All the data of natural science, 
which are responsible for Man's domination of the world, 
originated in activities that were indulged in exclusively for the 
sake of amusement. When Benjamin Franklin drew sparks 
from the tail of his kite he was thinking as little of the lightning 
conductor as Hertz, when he investigated electrical waves, 
was thinking of radio transmission. Anyone who has experi- 
enced in his own person how easily the inquisitiveness of a 
child at play can grow into the life work of a naturalist will 
never doubt the fundamental similarity of games and study. 
The inquisitive child disappears entirely from the wholly 
animal nature of the mature chimpanzee. But the child is far 
from being buried in the man, as Nietzsche thinks. On the 
contrary, it rules him absolutely . 7 

Animals are without speech— and one reason, surely, is their 
inability to play with sounds. They are without art— and the reason, 
again, is their inability to play with forms. Man's capacity for play 
animates his urge to fashion images and organize forms in such 
a way as to create new stimuli for himself: sign stimuli, to which 
his nervous system may then react much in the way of an iso- 
morph to its releaser. We have observed the case of the little girl, 
seized by her own creation of a witch. Let us consider, now, what 
can happen to a poet. The following statement, by the British poet 
and critic A. E. Housman, supplies the most satisfactory definition 
I know of a certain triggering principle that is effective in the 
poetic impact: 

Poetry seems to me more physical than intellectual. A year 
or two ago, in common with others, I received from America 



a request that I would define poetry. I replied that I could 
no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that 
I thought we both recognized the object by the symptoms 
which it provokes in us. One of these symptoms was described 
in connection with another object by Eliphaz the Temanite: 

"A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood 
up." Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morn- 
ing, to keep watch over my thoughts, because if a line of 
poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the 
razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied 
by a shiver down the spine; there is another which consists in 
a constriction of the throat and a precipitation of water to the 
eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe by borrow- 
ing a phrase from one of Keats's last letters, where he says, 
speaking of Fanny Brawne, "everything that reminds me of 
her goes through me like a spear." The seat of this sensation is 
the pit of the stomach . 8 

The reader hardly need be reminded that the images not only 
of poetry and love but also of religion and patriotism, whar effec- 
tive, are apprehended with actual physical responses: tears, sighs, 
interior aches, spontaneous groans, cries, bursts of laughter, wrath, 
and impulsive deeds. Human experience and human art, that is 
to say, have succeeded in creating for the human species an en- 
vironment of sign stimuli that release physical responses and direct 
them to ends no less effectively than do the signs of nature the 
instincts of the beasts. The biology, psychology, sociology, and 
history of these sign stimuli may be said to constitute the field of 
our subject, the science of Comparative Mythology. And although 
no one has yet devised an effective method for distinguishing be- 
tween the innate and the acquired, the natural and the culturally 
conditioned, the "elementary" and the "ethnic" aspects of such 
human-cultural catalysts and their evoked responses, the radical 
distinction here made by the poet Housman between images that 
act upon our nervous structure as energy releasers and those that 
serve, rather, for the transmission of thought, supplies an excellent 
criterion for the testing of our themes. 

"I cannot satisfy myself," he writes, "that there are any such 
things as poetical ideas. No truth, it seems to me, is too precious, 
no observation too profound, and no sentiment too exalted to be 



expressed in prose. The utmost that I could admit is that some 
ideas do, while others do not, lend themselves kindly to poetical 
expression; and that these receive from poetry an enhancement 
which glorifies and almost transfigures them, and which is not 
perceived to be a separate thing except by analysis." 9 

When Housman writes that "poetry is not the thing said but a 
way of saying it," and when he states again "that the intellect is 
not the fount of poetry, that it may actually hinder its production, 
and that it cannot even be trusted to recognize poetry when it is 
produced," 10 he is no more than reaffirming and lucidly formu- 
lating the first axiom of all creative art— whether it be in poetry, 
music, dance, architecture, painting, or sculpture— which is, 
namely, that art is not, like science, a logic of references but a re- 
lease from reference and rendition of immediate experience: a 
presentation of forms, images, or ideas in such a way that they 
will communicate, not primarily a thought or even a feeling, but 
an impact. 

The axiom is worth recalling here, because mythology was his- 
torically the mother of the arts and yet, like so many mythological 
mothers, the daughter, equally, of her own birth. Mythology is not 
invented rationally; mythology cannot be rationally understood. 
Theological interpreters render it ridiculous. Literary criticism 
reduces it to metaphor. A new and very promising approach is 
opened, however, when it is viewed in the light of biological psy- 
chology as a function of the human nervous system, precisely 
homologous to the innate and learned sign stimuli that release and 
direct the energies of nature— of which our brain itself is but the 
most amazing flower. 

One further lesson may be taken from animals. There is a phe- 
nomenon known to the students of animal behavior as the "super- 
normal sign stimulus," which has never been considered, as far as 
I know, in relation either to art and poetry or to myth; yet which, 
in the end, may be our surest guide to the seat of their force, and 
to an appreciation of their function in the quickening of the human 
dream of life. 

"The innate releasing mechanism," Tinbergen declares, "usu- 



ally seems to correspond more or less with the properties of the 
environmental object or situation at which the reaction is aimed. 

. . . However, dose study of IRMs reveals the remarkable fact 
that it is sometimes possible to offer stimulus situations that are 
even more effective than the natural situation. In other words, the 
natural situation is not always optimal." 11 

It was found, for instance, that the male of a certain butterfly 
known as the grayling (Eumenis semele), which assumes the ini- 
tiative in mating by pursuing a passing female in flight, generally 
prefers females of darker hue to those of lighter— and to such a 
degree that if a modd of even darker hue than anything known in 
nature is presented, the sexually motivated male will pursue it in 
preference even to the darkest female of the spedes. 

"Here we find," writes Professor Portmann, in comment, "an 
'inclination' that is not satisfied in nature, but which perhaps, one 
day, if inheritable darker mutations should appear, would play a 
role in the sdection of mating partners. Who knows whether such 
antidpations of particular sign stimuli may not play their part in 
the support and furthering of new variants, inasmuch as they 
may represent one of the factors in the process of sdection that 
determines the direction of evolution?" 12 

Obviously the human female, with her talent for play, recog- 
nized many millenniums ago the power of the supernormal sign 
stimulus: cosmetics for the hdghtening of the lines of her eyes have 
been found among the earliest remains of the Neolithic Age. And 
from there to an appredation of the force of ritualization, hieratic 
art, masks, gladiatorial vestments, kingly robes, and every other 
humanly conceived and realized improvement of nature, is but a 
step— or a natural series of steps. 

Evidence will appear, in the course of our natural history of the 
gods, of the gods themsdves as supernormal sign stimuli; of the 
ritual forms deriving from thdr supernatural inspiration acting as 
catalysts to convert men into gods; and of ci viliza tion— this new 
environment of man that has grown from his own interior and has 
pressed back the bounds of nature as far as the moon— as a distil- 
late of ritual, and consequently of the gods: that is to say, as an 



organization of supernormal sign stimuli playing on a set of IRMs 
never met by nature and yet most properly nature's own, inasmuch 
as man is her son. 

But for the present, it suffices to remark that one cannot assume 
out of hand that simply because a certain culturally developed sign 
stimulus appeared late in the course of history, man's response to 
it must represent a learned reaction. The reaction may be, in fact, 
spontaneous, though never shown before. For the creative imagina- 
tion may have released precisely here one of those innate "inclina- 
tions" of the human organism that have nowhere been fully 
matched by nature. Hence, not only the ritual arts and the develop- 
ment from them of the archaic civilizations, but also— and even 
more richly— the later shattering of those arts by the modem ar- 
rows of man's flight beyond his own highest dream, would per- 
haps best be interpreted psychologically, as a history of the super- 
normal sign stimuli that have released— to our own fright, joy, and 
amazement— the deepest secrets of our being. Indeed, the depths of 
the mystery of our subject— which are the depths not only of man 
but of the living world— have not been plumbed. 

In sum, then: Within the field of the study of animal behavior— 
which is the only area in which controlled experiments have made 
it possible to arrive at dependable conclusions in the observation 
of instinct— two orders of innate releasing mechanisms have been 
identified, namely, the stereotyped, and the open, subject to im- 
print. In the case of the first, a precise lock-key relationship exists 
between the inner readiness of the nervous system and the external 
sign stimulus triggering response; so that, if there exist in the 
human inheritance many— or even any— IRMs of this order, we 
may justly speak of "inherited images" in the psyche. The mere 
fact that no one can yet explain how such lock- key relationships 
are established does not invalidate the observation of their exist- 
ence: no one knows how the hawk got into the nervous system 
of our barnyard fowl, yet numerous tests have shown it to be, 
de facto, there. However, the human psyche has not yet been, to 
any great extent, satisfactorily tested for such stereotypes, and 
so, I am afraid, pending further study, we must simply admit that 
we do not know how far the principle of the inherited image can 



be carried when interpreting mythological universals. It is no less 
premature to deny its possibility than to announce it as anything 
more than a considered opinion. 

Nor are we ready, yet, to say whether the obvious, and some- 
times very striking, physical differences of the human races repre- 
sent significant variations of their innate releasing mechanisms. 
Among the animals such differences do exist— in fact, changes in 
the IRMs of the major instincts appear to be among the first 
things affected by mutation. 

For example, as Tinbergen observes: 

The herring gull (Larus argentatus) and the lesser black- 
backed gull (L. fuscus) in north-western Europe are con- 
sidered to be extremely diverged geographical races of one 
species, which, having developed by geographical isolation, 
have come into contact again by expansion of their ranges. 
The two forms show many differences in behavior; L. fuscus 
is a definite migrant, traveling to south-western Europe in 
autumn, whereas L. argentatus is of a much more resident 
habit. L. fuscus is much more a bird of the open sea than 
L. argentatus. The breeding- seasons are different. One be- 
havior difference is specially interesting. Both forms have two 
alarm calls, one expressing alarm of relatively low intensity, 
the other indicative of extreme alarm. L. argentatus gives the 
high- intensity alarm call much more rarely than L. fuscus. The 
result is that most disturbances are reacted to differently by 
the two forms. When a human intruder enters a mixed colony, 
the herring gulls will almost always utter the low- intensity call, 
while L. fuscus utters the high-intensity call. This difference, 
based upon a shift of degree in the threshold of alarm calls, 
gives the impression of a qualitative difference in the alarm 
calls of the two forms, such as might well lead to the total dis- 
appearance of one call in one species, of the other in the 
second species, and thus result in a qualitative difference in 
the motor- equipment. Apart from this difference in threshold, 
there is a difference in the pitch of each call . 13 

Between the various human races differences have been noted 
that suggest psychological as well as merely physiological varia- 
tion; differences, for example, in their rates of maturing, as Geza 
Roheim has indicated in his vigorous work on Psychoanalysis and 
Anthropology. 1 * However, it is still far from legitimate, on the 



basis of the mere scraps of controlled observation that have been 
recorded, to make any such broad generalizations about intellectual 
ability and moral character as are common in discussions of this 
subject. Furthermore, within the human species there is such broad 
variation of innate capacity from individual to individual that gen- 
eralizations on a racial basis lose much of their point. 

In other words, the whole question of the innate stereotypes of 
the species Homo sapiens is still wide open. Objective and prom- 
ising studies have been commenced, but they have not yet pro- 
gressed very far. An interesting series of experiments by E. Kaila , 15 
and R. A. Spitz and K. M. Wolf , 16 has shown that between the 
ages of three and six months the infant reacts with a smile to the 
appearance of a human face; and by fashioning masks omitting cer- 
tain of the details of the normal human countenance, the ob- 
servers were able to establish the fact that in order to evoke re- 
sponse the face had to have two eyes (one-eyed, asymmetrical 
masks did not work) , a smooth forehead (wrinkled foreheads pro- 
duced no smile), and a nose. Curiously, the mouth could be 
omitted; the smile, therefore, was not an imitation. The face had 
to be in some movement and seen from the front. Moreover, noth- 
ing else— not even a toy— would evoke this early infant smile. 
Following the sixth month, a distinction began to be made be- 
tween familiar and unfamiliar, friendly and unfriendly faces. The 
richness of the child's experience of its social environment having 
already increased, the innate releasing mechanism had been altered 
by impressions from the outer world, and the situation had changed. 

It has been remarked that in certain primitive Australian rock 
paintings of ancestral figures the mouths are omitted, and that a 
significant number of very early, paleolithic female figurines also 
lack the mouth. How far one can presume to carry these sugges- 
tions toward the conclusion that there is a "parental image" in 
the central nervous structure of the human infant, however, we 
cannot say. As Professor Portmann has pointed out: "Since the 
effect of this form on the infant can be demonstrated with cer- 
tainty only from the third month, the question remains open as to 
whether the central nervous structure that makes possible the 
recognition of the human countenance and the social response of 



the smile is of the open, i.e. imprinted, type, or entirely innate. All 
of the indices available to us speak for a largely inherited configura- 
tion; and yet, the question remains open ." 17 

How much more open, then, the question broached by Professor 
Lorenz in his paper on "The Innate Forms of Human Experi- 
ence": 18 the question of the parental response evoked in the 
adult by the sign stimuli provided by the human baby! The figure 
tells the story— as far as it goes. 

Sign stimuli releasing parental reactions in man (left), compared with 
counterparts that do not (right). After Lorenz 

And finally, it must be noted that there is no consensus among 
students of the subject even as to what categories of appetite may 
be regarded as instinctive in the human species. Professor Tin- 
bergen, speaking for the animal world, has named sleep and food- 
seeking; so also, in many species, flight from danger, fighting in 
self-defense, and a number of activities functionally related to the 
reproductive urge, as, for example, sexual fighting and rivalry, 
courtship, mating, and parental behavior (nest-building, protection 



of the young, etc. ) . The list greatly varies, however, from species to 
species; and how much of it can be carried over into the human 
sphere is not yet known. Tentatively, it might reasonably be sup- 
posed that food- seeking, sleep, self- protection, courtship and mat- 
ing, and some of the activities of parenthood should be instinc- 
tive. But the guestion— as we have seen— remains open as to what 
precisely are the sign stimuli that generally trigger these activities 
in man, or whether any of the stimuli can be said to be as imme- 
diately known to the human interior as the hawk to the chick. We 
do not, therefore, speak of inherited images in the following pages. 

The concept of the sign stimulus as an energy- releasing and 
-directing image darbies, however, the difference between literary 
metaphor, which is addressed to the intellect, and mythology, which 
is aimed primarily at the central exdtatory mechanisms (CEMs) 
and innate releasing mechanisms (IRMs) of the whole person. 
According to this view, a functioning mythology can be defined 
as a corpus of culturally maintained sign stimuli fostering the de- 
velopment and activation of a specific type, or constellation of 
types, of human life. Furthermore, since we now know that no 
images have been established unquestionably as innate and that 
our IRMs are not stereotyped but open, whatever "universals" we 
may find in our comparative study must be assigned rather to com- 
mon experience than to endowment; while, on the other hand, 
even where sign stimuli may differ, it need not follow that the re- 
sponding IRMs differ too. Our science is to be simultaneously bi- 
ological and historical throughout, with no distindion between 
"culturally conditioned" and "instinctive" behavior, since all in- 
stinctive human behavior is culturally conditioned, and what is 
culturally conditioned in us all is instinct: specifically, the CEMs 
and IRMs of this single species. 

Therefore, though respecting the possibility— perhaps the proba- 
bility— of such a psychologically inspired parallel development of 
mythological imagery as that suggested by Adolf Bastian's theory 
of elementary ideas and C. G. J ung's of the collective unconscious, 
we cannot attempt to interpret in such terms any of the remark- 
able correspondences that will everywhere confront us. On the 
other hand, however, we must ignore as biologically untenable 



such sociological theorizing as that represented, for example, by 
the anthropologist Ralph Linton when he wrote that "a society 
is a group of biologically distinct and self-contained individuals," 19 
since, indeed, we are a species and not biologically distinct. Our 
approach is to be, as far as possible, skeptical, historical, and de- 
scriptive— and where history fails and something else appears, as 
in a mirror, darkly, we indicate the considered guesses of the chief 
authorities in the field and leave the rest to silence, recognizing 
that in that silence there may be sleeping not only the jungle cry 
of Dryopithecus, but also a supernormal melody not to be heard 
for perhaps another million years. 

Chapter 2 


I. Suffering and Rapture 

J ames J oyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, supplies 
an excellent structuring principle for a cross-cultural study of 
mythology when he defines the material of tragedy as "whatsoever 
is grave and constant in human sufferings"; 1 for it is from the 
"grave and constant" that the imprints common to the mythologies 
of the world must be derived. And of such imprints, suffering it- 
self— the raw material of tragedy— is surely the most general, since 
it is, in a preliminary sense at least, the sum and effect of all. 

Moreover, tragedy— the Greek tragedy— was a poetic inflection 
of mythology, the tragic catharsis of emotion through pity and 
terror of which Aristotle wrote bang precisely the counterpart, 
psychologically, of the purgation of spirit (Kofkxpoig) effected by a 
rite. Like the rite, tragedy transmutes suffering into rapture by 
altering the focus of the mind. The tragic art is a correlate of the 
discipline termed, in the language of religion, "spiritual cleansing," 
or "the stripping of the self." Released from attachment to one's 
mortal part through a contemplation of the grave and constant in 
human sufferings— "correcting," to use Plato's felicitous phrase, 
"those circuits of the head that were deranged at birth, by learning 
to know the harmonies of the world " 2 —one is united, simultane- 
ously, in tragic pity with "the human sufferer" and in tragic terror 
with "the secret cause," Plato's "likeness of that which intelligence 
discerns." Whereupon, one day, with a cry of joy, leaving both 




humanity and intelligence behind, the soul may leap to what it 
then suddenly recognizes beyond the mask. Finis tragoediae: in- 
dpit comoedia. The mode of the tragedy dissolves and the myth 

"O Lord, how marvelous is Thy face," wrote Nicholas of Cusa, 

Thy face, which a young man, if he strove to imagine it, 
would conceive as a youth's; a full-grown man, as manly; an 
aged man as an aged man's! Who could imagine this sole pat- 
tern, most true and most adequate, of all faces— of all even as 
of each— this pattern so very perfectly of each as if it were 
of none other? He would have need to go beyond all forms 
of faces that may be formed, and all figures. And how could 
he imagine a face when he must go beyond all faces, and all 
likenesses and figures of all faces and all concepts which can 
be formed of a face, and all color, adornment and beauty of 
all faces? Wherefore he that goeth forward to behold Thy face, 
so long as he formeth any concept thereof, is far from Thy 
face. For all concept of a face falleth short. Lord, of Thy face, 
and all beauty which can be conceived is less than the beauty 
of Thy face; every face hath beauty yet none is beauty's self, 
but Thy face. Lord, hath beauty and this having is being. 'Tis 
therefore Absolute Beauty itself, which is the form that giveth 
being to every beautiful form. O face exceedingly comely, 
whose beauty all things to whom it is granted to behold it, 
suffice not to admire! In all faces is seen the Face of faces, 
veiled, and in a riddle; howbeit unveiled it is not seen, until 
above all faces a man enter into a certain secret and mystic 
silence where there is no knowledge or concept of a face. This 
mist, cloud, darkness, or ignorance into which he that seeketh 
Thy face entereth when he goeth beyond all knowledge or 
concept is the state below which Thy face cannot be found 
except veiled; but that very darkness revealeth Thy face to 
be there, beyond all veils . 3 

Here is the secret cause— known not in terror but in rapture. 
And its sole beholder is the perfectly purified spirit, gone beyond 
the normal bounds of human experience, thought, and speech. 
"There the eye goes not," we read in the Indian Kena Upani§ad, 
"speech goes not, nor the mind ." 4 And yet the impact has been 
experienced by a great many on this earth. It has been rendered 
(though seldom as wonderfully as in this inspired utterance of 



Cusanus) in many mythologies and many paeans of the mystics, 
in many times and many lands. Without question, it is an avail- 
able experience, and should even, perhaps, be counted paramount 
among the "grave and constant" in human suffering and joy. 
Furthermore, the images rendering it must be classified in our 
science as of one order, no matter how alien they may be to our 
local forms of religious symbolization. 

The Fifth Danish Thule Expedition (1921-1924) across arctic 
North America, from Greenland to Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, 
was conducted by the seasoned scholar and explorer Knud Ras- 
mussen, who, in the course of this extraordinary journey, met and 
won the confidence of a number of Eskimo shamans: first, a 
generous- hearted, warmly hospitable, sturdy old man named Aua 
at Hudson Bay; next, in the harsh Baker Lake area, among the 
so-called Caribou Eskimo (who are as primitive as any people on 
earth), a ruthless, highly intelligent, strongly independent savage 
named Igjugaijuk, who, when as a youth he had wished to take 
to wife a girl whose family objected, went with his brother to lie 
in wait not far from the entrance to the young woman's hut and 
from there shot down her father, mother, brothers, and sisters— 
seven or eight in all— until only the girl that he wanted remained; 
and finally, at Nome, an old scalawag named Najagneq, who had 
just been released from a year in jail for having killed seven or 
eight members of his community. In his distant village, Najagneq 
had made a fortress of his house and from there, alone, had 
waged war with the whole of his tribe— and against the whites 
too— until he had been taken by stratagem by the captain of a 
ship and brought to Nome. He was held in jail there until ten wit- 
nesses of his killings could be fetched from his settlement; but 
when these were confronted with him they dropped their charges, 
much as they would have liked to see him done away with. His 
small piercing eyes roamed about wildly, and his jaw hung in a 
bandage that was much too slack, a man who had tried to kill him 
having injured his face. And when the ten men who would have 
accused him met his look in the witness box, they lowered their 
eyes in shame. 

It is worth considering for a moment the character of these 



rugged shamans, lest we suppose that the highest religious realiza- 
tions are vouchsafed only to the saintly. 

Dr. H. Ostermann, in his report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, 

Najagneq's powers of imagination had been stimulated in the 
big town of Nome. Although knowing of nothing except earth 
huts, sledges and kayaks, he was not at all impressed by the 
large houses, the steamers and the motor-cars. But he had 
been fascinated by the sight of a white horse hauling a big 
lorry. So he now told his astonished fellow villagers that the 
white men in Nome had killed him ten times that winter, but 
that he had had ten white horses as helping spirits, and he had 
sacrificed them one by one and thus saved his life. 

This man of "ten-horse-power" had authority in his speech, 
and he completely swayed those to whom he spoke. He had 
conceived a curious feeling of mild goodness for Dr. Rasmus- 
sen, and when they were alone together he was not afraid to 
admit that he had pulled the legs of his countrymen somewhat. 

He was no humbug, but a solitary man accustomed to hold 
his own against many and therefore had to have his little 
tricks. But whenever his old visions and his ancestral beliefs 
were mentioned, his replies, which were brief and to the point, 
bore the impress of imperturbable gravity. When Dr. Ras- 
mussen asked him if he believed in any of all the powers he 
spoke of, he answered: "Yes, a power that we call Sila, one 
that cannot be explained in so many words. A strong spirit, 
the upholder of the universe, of the weather, in fact all life on 
earth— so mighty that his speech to man comes not through 
ordinary words, but through storms, snowfall, rain showers, 
the tempests of the sea, through all the forces that man fears, 
or through sunshine, calm seas or small, innocent, playing 
children who understand nothing. When times are good, Sila 
has nothing to say to mankind. He has disappeared into his 
infinite nothingness and remains away as long as people do 
not abuse life but have respect for their daily food. No one 
has ever seen Sila. His place of sojourn is so mysterious that 
he is with us and infinitely far away at the same time. " 

And Dr. Rasmussen adds [Dr. Ostermann is quoting from 
the notes found in Rasmussen's posthuma] : "Najagneq's words 
sound like an echo of the wisdom we admired in the old 
shamans we encountered everywhere on our travels— in harsh 
King William Land or in Aua's festive snow hut at Hudson 



Bay, or in the primitive Eskimo Igjugarjuk, whose pithy 
maxim was: 

" 'The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the 
great loneliness, and it can be reached only through suffering. 
Privation and suffering alone can open the mind of a man to 
all that is hidden to others . 1 " 5 

We shall return in a later chapter to Igjugarjuk and his story of 
the sufferings through which he learned true wisdom. The present 
point is that from the great Cusanus to the great Igjugarjuk we 
have a considerable span of human character and experience, as 
well as of cultural inheritance; yet, unless I am deceived, the ulti- 
mate reference of their mutually independent statements is the 
same. Nor is this the last that we shall learn of the hidden wisdom 
achieved through suffering, "in the great loneliness," which is "be- 
yond all forms of faces that may be formed, and all figures," or as 
Najagneq put it, "cannot be explained in so many words." 

The "grave and constant" in human suffering, then, leads— or 
may lead— to an experience that is regarded by those who have 
known it as the apogee of their lives, and which is yet ineffable. And 
this experience, or at least an approach to it, is the ultimate aim of 
all religion, the ultimate reference of all myth and rite. Moreover, 
those by whom the mythological traditions of the world have been 
developed and maintained have been the shamans, sages, prophets, 
and priests, many of whom have had an actual experience of this 
ineffable mystery and all of whom have revered it. One of the 
ironies of our subject is that much of the research and collecting 
among primitive tribes has been conducted either by scientists 
whose minds are sterilized to this experience and for whom the 
word "mystic" is a term of abuse, or else by missionaries for whom 
the only valid approach to it is in their own tradition of spiritual 
metaphor. Yet occasionally a scholar of Rasmussen's stature ap- 
pears and the truth is out. 

The first point to be noticed is that a primitive wizard is perfectly 
capable not only of uttering as profound a statement concerning 
the relationship of man to the mystery of his being as any that will 
be found in the annals of the higher religions, but also of wantonly 



produdng parodies of his own mythology to intimidate and impress 
his simpler fellows. The fact that valid mythological motifs (for 
example, death and resurrection) have been used in this way for 
deception docs not mean that in proper context they are still, 
necessarily, the "opiate of the people." Yet they certainly may 
become just that; for since the ultimate reference of religion is 
ineffable, many of those who live most sincerely by its mythology 
are the most deceived— this deception itself being part of the 
suffering and darkness through which the mind must pass before 
the Face-that-is-no-face becomes known. 

There is a word in Sanskrit, upadhi, which means "deceit, decep- 
tion, disguise," but also, "limitation, idiosyncrasy, or attribute." 
The ultimate truth, being without attributes, cannot be contem- 
plated by the mind. As Igjugarjuk says, it "lives far from man- 
kind, out in the great loneliness." Therefore, in rites and medita- 
tions designed to ready the mind for an experience of the beauty 
that is Absolute Beauty, "attributes" (upadhis) are assigned to it; 
for example, in the meditation of Cusanus, the property of being 
a face— and of being beautiful. 

Gerhart Hauptmann has somewhere said that poetiy is the art 
of causing the Word to resound behind words (Dichten heisst, 
hinter Worten das Urwort erkhngen lassen ). 9 In the same sense, 
mythology is a rendition of forms through which the formless 
Form of forms can be known. An inferior object is presented as 
the representation, or habitation, of a superior. The love or at- 
tachment felt for the inferior is a function actually of one's 
potential establishment in the superior; yet it must be sacrificed 
(therein the suffering! ) if the mind is to pass on to its proper end. 

The science of comparative mythology is, then, a comparative 
study of upadhis: the deceptive attributes of being, through which 
the human mind, in the various eras and areas of its domain, has 
been united with the secret cause in tragic terror, and with the 
human sufferer (the self being stripped away) in tragic pity. And 
these upadhis are of two orders: those inevitably deriving from 
the primary conditions of all human experience whatsoever (la 
condition humaine), and those particular to the various areas and 



eras of human civilization (die Volkergedanken). Of the first we 
treat in the present chapter; of the others, in the remaining sections 
of the work. 

But all, certainly, will not be of suffering, the tragic upadhi (or 
deception) of suffering; for the paramount theme of mythology is 
not the agony of quest but the rapture of a revelation, not death but 
the resurrection: Hallelujah! 

"I am she," declared the great goddess of the universe. Queen 
Isis, when she appeared to Lucius Apuleius, her devotee, at the 
conclusion of the ordeal described allegorically in his novel. The 
Golden Ass: 

I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and 
governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, 
chief of the powers divine, queen of all that are in hell, the 
principal of them that dwell in heaven, manifested alone and 
under one form of all the gods and goddesses. At my will the 
planets of the sky, the wholesome winds of the seas, and the 
lamentable silences of hell are disposed; my name, my divinity 
is adored throughout the world, in divers manners, in variable 
customs, and by many names. 

For the Phrygians that are the first of all men call me the 
Mother of the gods of Pessinus; the Athenians, which are 
sprung from their own soil, Cecropian Minerva; the Cyprians, 
which are girt about by the sea, Paphian Venus; the Cretans, 
which bear arrows, Dictynian Diana; the Sicilians, which speak 
three tongues, infernal Proserpine; the Eleusians their ancient 
goddess Ceres; some Juno, others Bellona, others Hecate, 
others Ramnusie, and principally both sort of the Ethiopians, 
which dwell in the Orient and are enlightened by the morning 
rays of the sun; and the Egyptians, which are excellent in all 
kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies ac- 
customed to worship me, do call me by my true name. Queen 

Behold I am come to take pity of thy fortune and tribula- 
tion; behold I am present to favor and aid thee; leave ofF 
thy weeping and lamentation, put away all thy sorrow, for be- 
hold the healthful day which is ordained by my providence . 7 

Suffering itself is a deception (upadhi); for its core is rapture, 
which is the attribute (upadhi) of illumination. 

The imprint of the rapture enclosed in suffering, then, is the 



foremost "grave and constant" of our science. Compassed in the 
life wisdom of perhaps but a minority of the human race, it has 
nevertheless been the matrix and final term of all the mythologies 
of the world, yielding its radiance to the whole festival of those 
lesser upadhis— or imprints— to which we now must turn. 

II. The Sfruduring Force of Lif e on Earth 

Certainly one force that can never have been absent from human 
experience, as Adolf Portmann has pointed out in a suggestive 
paper on "The Earth as the Home of Life , " 8 is gravity, which not 
only works continuously on every aspect of human affairs, but has 
fundamentally conditioned the form of the body and all its organs. 
The diurnal alternation of light and dark is another ineluctable 
factor of experience, to which, indeed, considerable dramatic value 
accrues as a result of the fact that at night the world sleeps, 
dangers lurk, and the mind plunges into a realm of dream ex- 
perience, which differs in its logic from the world of light. In 
dream, objects shine of themselves, without illumination from with- 
out, and, moreover, are of a subtle substance that is capable of 
magical and rapid transformation, appalling effects, and non- 
mechanical locomotion. There can be no doubt but that the world 
of myth has been saturated by dream, or that men were dreaming 
even when they were little more than apes. And, as Geza Roheim 
has observed, "there cannot be several 'culturally determined 1 ways 
of dreaming, just as there are no two ways of sleeping." 9 

Dawn, and awakening from this world of dream, must always 
have been associated with the sun and sunrise. The night fears and 
night charms are dispelled by light, which has always been ex- 
perienced as coming from above and as furnishing guidance and 
orientation. Darkness, then, and weight, the pull of gravity and the 
dark interior of the earth, of the jungle, or of the deep sea, as well 
as certain extremely poignant fears and delights, must for mil- 
lenniums have constituted a firm syndrome of human experience, 
in contrast to the luminous flight of the world- awakening solar 
sphere into and through immeasurable heights. Hence a polarity 
of light and dark, above and below, guidance and loss of bearings, 
confidence and fears (a polarity that we all know from our own 



tradition of thought and feeling and can find matched in many 
parts of the world) must be reckoned as inevitable in the way of a 
structuring principle of human thought. It may or may not be fixed 
within us as an "isomorph"; * but, in any case, it is certainly a 
general and very deeply known experience. 

The moon, furthermore, and the spectacle of the night sky, the 
stars and the Milky Way, have constituted, certainly from the be- 
ginning, a source of wonder and profound impression. But there 
is actually a physical influence of the moon upon the earth and its 
creatures, its tides and our own interior tides, which has long been 
consciously recognized as well as subliminally experienced. The 
coincidence of the menstrual cycle with that of the moon is a 
physical actuality structuring human life and a curiosity that has 
been observed with wonder. It is in fact likely that the fundamental 
notion of a life- structuring relationship between the heavenly world 
and that of man was derived from the realization, both in experience 
and in thought, of the force of the lunar cycle. The mystery, also, 
of the death and resurrection of the moon, as well as of its in- 
fluence on dogs, wolves and foxes, jackals and coyotes, which try 
to sing to it: this immortal silver dish of wonder, cruising among 
the beautiful stars and racing through the clouds, turning waking 
life itself into a sort of dream, has been a force and presence even 
more powerful in the shaping of mythology than the sun, by which 
its light and its world of stars, night sounds, erotic moods, and the 
magic of dream, are daily quenched. 

The contrast in physical form and spheres of competence of the 
male and female surely is another universal of human experience; 
and we must reckon also, in this context, with the "instinct cross- 
ing" between the two, which makes possible— or rather, inevitable, 
and sometimes even against better judgment— the awakening of 
the two bodies in synchronization to that curious mutual engage- 
ment which the Freudians like to call a "re-enactment of the 
primal scene, " and which many have found to be the one consum- 
mation of appetite most difficult to resist. In a number of meticulous 
studies of animal behavior it has been shown that a trimly meshed 
sequence of sign stimuli, flashed from the male organism to the 

* Cf. supra, P- 35. 


female and from the female to the male, can be identified as re- 
leasers of the sometimes exceedingly complicated performances 
that must be undertaken in perfect synchronization before the 
species can be reproduced; and I do not know anyone outside of 
the most carefully schooled scientific circles who would suppose 
for a moment that a comparable criss-cross of isomorphs might not 
safely be assumed to exist on the human level as well. But since 
nothing is to be assumed recklessly on the basis of merely personal 
experience, and no one has yet been able to raise two young 
human beings in absolute isolation from social conditioning and 
introduce them to each other when the moon is full, we shall not 
presume to say how much of what everyone knows about this 
matter is due to imprint, or how much to inherited image. Let us 
remark only that the perfumes of flowers, the beautification of the 
body, night, secret meetings, music, token exchanges, anguish, 
remorse, rivalry, jealousy, murder, and the whole opera, can be 
identified in human history as far as our eyes can see. 

And we have the voluminous literature of the Freudian school 
to assure us that the covert as well as obvious analogies, puns, 
and inflections by which sex, the sex organs, and the sexual act 
are implicated in our thoughts are known to every tradition in the 
world, whether oral or literate. In mythology, of course, the image 
of birth from the womb is an extremely common figure for the 
origin of the universe, and the sexual intercourse that must have 
preceded it is represented in ritual action as well as in story. 
Furthermore, the mysterious (one might even say, magical) 
functioning of the female body in its menstrual cycle, in the ceasing 
of the cycle during the period of gestation, and in the agony of 
birth— and the appearance, then, of the new being; these, cer- 
tainly, have made profound imprints on the mind. The fear of 
menstrual blood and isolation of women during their periods, the 
rites of birth, and all the lore of magic associated with human 
fecundity make it evident that we are here in the field of one of 
the major centers of interest of the human imagination. In the 
earliest ritual art the naked female form is extremely prominent, 
whereas the male is usually ornamented, or masked, as shaman or 
hunter in the performance of some act. The fear of woman and 



the mystery of her motherhood have been for the male no less 
impressive imprinting forces than the fears and mysteries of the 
world of nature itself. And there may be found in the mythologies 
and ritual traditions of our entire species innumerable instances of 
the unrelenting efforts of the male to relate himself effectively— in 
the way, so to say, of antagonistic cooperation— to these two 
alien yet intimately constraining forces: woman and the world. 

Still another profoundly important structuring system of ex- 
periences that can be said, without question, to constitute a pattern 
of imprints on our own readiness for life is that of the normal 
stages of human growth and emotional susceptibility, from the 
moment of birth to that of death and the stench of decay. A great 
deal of excellent writing on this subject has been produced 
recently by the various authorities on child psychology and 
psychoanalysis, so that to review the whole matter in detail would 
be only to repeat what is already very well known. However, I am 
not aware of any work that has yet drawn attention in systematic 
series to the mythological motifs developed from the imprints of 
this sociologized biology of human growth. 

As we have noted, it requires twenty years for the human 
organism to mature, and during the greater part of this develop- 
ment it is dependent, utterly, upon parental care. There follows a 
period of another twenty years or so of maturity, after which the 
signs of age begin to appear. But the human being is the only 
animal capable of knowing death as the end inevitable for itself, 
and the span of old age for this human organism, consciously 
facing death, is a period of years longer than the whole lifetime 
of any other primate. So we see three— at least three— distinct 
periods of growth and susceptibility to imprint as inevitable in a 
human biography: ( 1) childhood and youth, with its uncouth 
charm; (2) maturity, with its competence and authority; and (3) 
wise old age, nursing its own death and gazing back, either with 
love or with rancor, at the fading world. 

It has been the chief function of much of the mythological lore 
and ritual practice of our species to carry the mind, feelings, and 
powers of action of the individual across the critical thresholds 
from the two decades of infancy to adulthood, and from old age 



to death; to supply the sign stimuli adequate to release the life 
energies of the one who is no longer what he was for his new task, 
the new phase, in a manner appropriate to the well-being of the 
group. And so we find, on the one hand, as a constant factor in 
these "rites of passage," the inevitable, and therefore universal, 
requirements of the human individual at the particular junctures, 
and on the other hand, as a cultural variable, the historically 
conditioned requirements and beliefs of the local group. This gives 
that interesting quality of seeming to be ever the same, though 
ever changing, to the kaleidoscope of world mythology, which may 
charm our poets and artists but is a nightmare for the mind that 
seeks to classify. And yet, with a steady eye, even the phantas- 
magoria of a nightmare can be catalogued— to a degree. 

The remaining sections of the present chapter develop, therefore, 
in the way of a tentative, preliminary sketch, the main lines and 
phases of what would appear to have been— up to the present 
moment, at least— the chief sources of imprint in the course of 
the archetypal biography of man. 

III. The Imprints of Early Infancy 

Certain imprints impressed upon the nervous system in the 
plastic period between birth and maturity are the source of many 
of the most widely known images of myth. Necessarily the same 
for all mankind, they have been variously organized in the differing 
traditions, but everywhere function as potent energy releasers and 

The first indelible imprints are those of the moment of birth 
itself. The congestion of blood and sense of suffocation experienced 
by the infant before its lungs commence to operate give rise to a 
brief seizure of terror, the physical effects of which (caught breath, 
circulatory congestion, dizziness, or even blackout) tend to recur, 
more or less strongly, whenever there is an abrupt moment of 
fright. So that the birth trauma, as an archetype of transformation, 
floods with considerable emotional effect the brief moment of loss 
of security and threat of death that accompanies any crisis of 
radical change. In the imagery of mythology and religion this birth 
(or more often rebirth) theme is extremely prominent; in fact. 



every threshold passage— not only this from the darkness of the 
womb to the light of the sun, but also those from childhood to 
adult life and from the light of the world to whatever mystery of 
darkness may lie beyond the portal of death— is comparable to a 
birth and has been ritually represented, practically everywhere, 
through an imagery of re-entry into the womb. This is one of those 
mythological universals that surely merit interpretation, rather 
from a psychological than from an ethnological point of view. 

The water image in mythology is intimately associated with this 
motif, and the goddesses, mermaids, witches, and sirens that often 
appear as guardians or manifestations of water (wells, water 
courses, youth- renewing caldrons). Ladies of the Lake and other 
water nixies, may represent either its life-threatening or its life- 
furthering aspect. 

The Late Classical story of Actaeon, for example, as rendered 
in Ovid's Metamorphoses , 10 tells of a hunter, a vigorous youth in 
the prime of his young manhood, who, when stalking deer with his 
dogs, chanced upon a stream that he followed to its source, where 
he broke upon the goddess Diana bathing, surrounded by a galaxy 
of naked nymphs. And the youth, not spiritually prepared for such 
a supernormal image, had only the normal look in his eye; where- 
upon the goddess, perceiving this, sent forth her power and trans- 
formed him into a stag, which his own dogs then immediately 
scented, pursued, and tore to bits. 

On the simple level of a typical Freudian reading, this mythical 
episode represents the prurient anxiety of a small boy discovering 
Mother; but according to a more sophisticated, "sublimated" vein 
of reference, more appropriate to the post- Alexandrian atmosphere 
of Ovid's elegant art, Diana was a manifestation of that goddess- 
mother of the world whom we have already met as Queen Isis, and 
who, as she herself has told us, was known to the cultures of the 
Mediterranean under many names. The case, surely, is that of an 
upadhi: an inferior object (mother image) serving as symbol of a 
superior (the mystery of life). Meditating, we may emphasize the 
superior, in which case we are performing what in India is termed 
sampad upasana, "accomplished, or perfected, meditation"; or 
we may emphasize the inferior, which is termed adhyasa upasana. 



"superimposed, or false, meditation." The first elevates to the 
supernormal; the second leaves one about as Actaeon: to be 
psychoanalyzed, finally, to bits and returned to the womb. 

At her greatest temple city in Asia Minor, at Ephesus (where, in 
A.D. 431, the Virgin Mary would be declared to have been truly 
"the Godbearer"), the great goddess, the mother of all things, was 
represented as Artemis (Diana) with a multitude of breasts. In- 
numerable figurines, furthermore, of naked goddesses (or rather, 
in the spirit of her own perfected teaching, we should say, of the 
Naked Goddess) have been found throughout the excavated ruins 
of the ancient world. As Heinrich Zimmer observed in his com- 
mentary on a Hindu version of her story: 

If one inquires to know her ultimate origin, the oldest textual 
remains and images can carry us back only so far, and permit 
us to say: "Thus she appeared in those early times; so-and-so 
she may have been named; and in such-and-such a manner 
she seems to have been revered. " But with that we have come 
to the end of what can be said; with that we have come to the 
primitive problem of her comprehension and being. She is the 
primum mobile, the first beginning, the material matrix out of 
which all comes forth. To question beyond her into her ante- 
cedents and origin, is not to understand her, is indeed to mis- 
understand and underestimate, in fact to insult her. And any- 
one attempting such a thing well might suffer the calamity that 
befell that smart young adept who undertook to unveil the 
veiled image of the Goddess in the ancient Egyptian temple of 
Sais, and whose tongue was paralysed forever by the shock 
of what he saw. According to the Greek tradition the Goddess 
has declared of herself: oubriq spov utrimv derate, "no one has 
lifted my veil." It is a question not exactly of the veil, but of 
the garment that covers her female nakedness— the veil is a 
later misinterpretation for the sake of decency. The meaning 
is: I am the Mother without a spouse, the Original Mother; 
all are my children, and therefore none has ever dared to 
approach me; the impudent one who should attempt it shames 
the Mother— and that is the reason for the curse. 11 

In the tale of Actaeon we have this same religious theme 
rendered in a comparable image. "And though Diana would fain 
have had her arrow ready, " Ovid tells us, "what she had she took 



up, the water, and flung it into the young man's face. And as she 
poured the avenging drops upon his hair, she spoke these words, 
foreboding his coming doom: 'Now you are free to tell that you 
have seen me unrobed— if you can tell.' " 12 

The water is the vehicle of the power of the goddess; but 
egually, it is she who personifies the mystery of the waters of birth 
and dissolution— whether of the individual or of the universe. For 
in the vein of myth the elemental mode of representation may 
alternate with that of personification. At the opening of the Book 
of Genesis is it not written, for example, that "the Spirit [or wind] 
of God was moving over the face of the waters"? Water and wind, 
matter and spirit, life and its generator: these paus of opposites are 
fused in the experience of life; and their world- creating juncture 
may be represented elementally, as in this opening of the Bible, 
or on the other hand, as in the art of the Tantric Buddhism, in the 
image of a divine male and female in sexual embrace. The 
mystery of the origin of the "great universe" or macrocosm is 
read in terms of the procreation of the "little universe," the micro- 
cosm; and the amniotic fluid is then precisely comparable to the 
water that in many mythologies, as well as in the pre-Socratic 
philosophy of the Greek sageThaies of Miletus (c. 640-546 B.C.), 
represents the elementary substance of all things. 

This manner of homologizing the personal and the universal, 
which is a basic method of mythological discourse, has made it 
possible for Freudian psychoanalysts, whose training in the lan- 
guage of symbols has been derived from a study primarily of 
neurotics, to translate the whole cultural inheritance of mankind 
back into nursery rhymes. But the problem of the neurotic is, 
precisely, that instead of accomplishing the passage of the difficult 
threshold of puberty, dying as infant to be reborn as adult, he has 
remained with a significant fraction of his personality structure 
fixed in the condition of dependency. Rejecting emotionally the 
reorganization of his childhood imprints through the myths and 
rites of a maturely functioning community, he can read the picture 
language of his civilization only in terms of the infantile sources of 
its developed and manipulated figures; whereas in the mythology 
and rites these have been applied to a cultural and simultaneously 



metaphysical context of allusions. Freud theoretically devaluated 
such culturally and philosophically inspired repattemings, terming 
them mere "secondary elaborations"— which is perhaps appro- 
priate when the case in question is the nightmare of some forty- 
year-old sub-adolescent weeping on a couch. But in the reading 
of myth such a reductive method commits us to the monotony of 
identifying in every symbolic system only the infantile sources of 
its elements, neglecting as merely secondary the historical problem 
of their reorganization: pretty much as though an architect, view- 
ing the structures of Rome, Istanbul, Mohenjo-Daro, and New 
York, were to content himself with the observation that all are of 
brick. In the present chapter we are examining bricks. Hereafter we 
may take bricks for granted and concern ourselves with their em- 
ployment. For, as a J ungian friend of mine once epitomized the 
problem: "It is the predicament of the neurotic that he translates 
everything into the terms of infantile sexuality; but if the doctor 
does so too, then where do we get?" 

The state of the child in the womb is one of bliss, actionless 
bliss, and this state may be compared to the beatitude visualized 
for paradise. In the womb, the child is unaware of the alternation 
of night and day, or of any of the images of temporality. It should 
not be surprising, therefore, if the metaphors used to represent 
eternity suggest, to those trained in the symbolism of the infantile 
unconscious, retreat to the womb. 

The fear of the dark, which is so strong in children, has been 
said to be a function of their fear of returning to the womb: the 
fear that their recently achieved daylight consciousness and not 
yet secure individuality should be reabsorbed. In archaic art, the 
labyrinth— home of the child-consuming Minotaur— was repre- 
sented in the figure of a spiral. The spiral also appears spon- 
taneously in certain stages of meditation, as well as to people going 
to sleep under ether. It is a prominent device, furthermore, at the 
silent entrances and within the dark passages of the ancient Irish 
kingly burial mound of New Grange. These facts suggest that a 
constellation of images denoting the plunge and dissolution of 
consciousness in the darkness of non-being must have been em- 
ployed intentionally, from an early date, to represent the analogy 



of threshold rites to the mystery of the entry of the child into the 
womb for birth. And this suggestion is reinforced by the further 
fact that the paleolithic caves of southern France and northern 
Spain, which are now dated by most authorities circa 30,000- 
10,000 B.C., were certainly sanctuaries not only of hunting magic 
but also of the male puberty rites. A terrific sense of claustrophobia, 
and simultaneously of release from every context of the world 
above, assails the mind impounded in those more than absolutely 
dark abysses, where darkness no longer is an absence of fight but 
an experienced force. And when a fight is flashed to reveal the 
beautifully painted bulls and mammoths, flocks of reindeer, trotting 
ponies, woolly rhinos, and dancing shamans of those caves, the 
images smite the mind as indelible imprints. It is obvious that the 
idea of death- and- rebirth, rebirth through ritual and with a fresh 
organization of profoundly impressed sign stimuli, is an extremely 
ancient one in the history of culture, and that everything was done, 
even in the period of the paleolithic caves, to inspire in the 
youngsters being symbolically killed a reactivation of their child- 
hood fear of the dark. The psychological value of such a "shock 
treatment" for the shattering of a no longer wanted personality 
structure appears to have been methodically utilized in a time- 
tested pedagogical crisis of brainwashing and simultaneous re- 
conditioning of the IRMs, for the conversion of babes into men, 
dependable hunters, and courageous defenders of the tribe. 

The concept of the earth as both bearing and nourishing mother 
has been extremely prominent in the mythologies both of hunting 
societies and of planters. According to the imagery of the hunters, 
it is from her womb that the game animals derive, and one dis- 
covers their timeless archetypes in the underworld, or dancing 
ground, of the rites of initiation— those archetypes of which the 
flocks on earth are but temporal manifestations sent for the 
nourishment of man. Comparably, according to the planters, it is 
in the mother's body that the grain is sown: the plowing of the 
earth is a begetting and the growth of the grain a birth. Further- 
more, the idea of the earth as mother and of burial as a re-entry 
into the womb for rebirth appears to have recommended itself to 
at least some of the communities of mankind at an extremely early 


date. The earliest unmistakable evidences of ritual and therewith of 
mythological thought yet found have been the grave burials of 
Homo neanderthalensis, a remote predecessor of our own species, 
whose period is perhaps to be dated as early as 200,000-75,000 
B.c. 13 Neanderthal skeletons have been found interred with supplies 
(suggesting the idea of another life), accompanied by animal 
sacrifice (wild ox, bison, and wild goat), with attention to an east- 
west axis (the path of the sun, which is reborn from the same 
earth in which the dead are placed), in flexed position (as though 
within the womb), or in a sleeping posture— in one case with a 
pillow of chips of flint. 14 Sleep and death, awakening and resur- 
rection, the grave as a return to the mother for rebirth; but whether 
Homo neanderthalensis thought the next awakening would be 
here again or in some world to come (or even both together) we 
do not know. 

So much, then, for the imagery of birth. 

The next constellation of imprints to be noted is that associated 
with the bliss of the child at the mother's breast; and here again 
we have a context of enduring force. The relationship of suckling 
to mother is one of symbiosis: though two, they constitute a unit. 
In fact, as far as the infant is concerned— who is still far from 
having conceived even the first notion of a dissociation between 
subject and object, inside and outside— the affective aspect of its 
own experience and those external stimuli to which its feeling, 
needs, and satisfactions correspond are exactly one. Its world, as 
Jean Piaget has clearly shown in his study of The Child's Concep- 
tion of the World, is a "continuum of consciousness," 15 at once 
physical and psychic. Whatever impinges upon its unpracticed 
senses is uncritically identified with the attendant tonalities of its 
own interior, so that between the external and internal poles of its 
world there is no distinction. And this undefined, undefining ex- 
perience of continuity is only emphasized by the readiness of the 
mother to respond to, or even to anticipate, its requirements. 16 
The whole tiny universe of this self-centered mite is "a network of 
purposive movements, more or less mutually dependent," 17 and 
all tending toward the good of— itself. 



But the mother cannot anticipate everything. There are moments, 
consequently, when the universe does not correspond exactly to 
experienced need. Whereupon the imprints of that first terrifying 
shock of separation, the birth trauma, which afflicted the whole 
organism in its initial experience of the assault of life, are more or 
less forcefully reactivated. The mother is absent; the universe, 
absent; the bliss of the blessed infant imbibing forever the 
ambrosia of the madonna's body is gone forever. Melanie Klein, 
who has devoted particular attention to this very early chapter of 
our universal biography, has suggested that at such moments an 
impulse to tear "good body content" from the mother is im- 
mediately and simultaneously identified by the child with the 
danger of its own bodily destruction . 18 Hence, when the mother 
image begins to assume definition in the gradual dawn of the 
infantile consciousness, it is already associated not only with a 
sense of beatitude, but also with fantasies of danger, separation, and 
terrible destruction. 

We all know the fairy tale of the witch who lives in a candy 
house that would be nice to eat. Indeed, we have seen already 
what a scare she gave to a child who conjured her up in play. She 
is kind to children and invites them into her tasty house only be- 
cause she wants to eat them. She is a cannibal. (And for some six 
hundred thousand years of human experience cannibals, it should 
be bom in mind— and even cannibal mothers— were grim and 
gruesome, ever-present realities.) Cannibal ogresses appear in the 
folklore of peoples, high and low, throughout the world; and on 
the mythological level the archetype is even magnified into a 
universal symbol in such cannibal-mother goddesses as the Hindu 
Kali, the "Black One," who is a personification of "all-consuming 
Time"; or in the medieval European figure of the consumer of the 
wicked dead, the female mouth and belly of Hel. 

In a myth of the Melanesian island of Malekula in the New 
Hebrides, which describes the dangers of the way to the Land of 
the Dead, it is told that when the soul has been carried on a wind 
across the waters of death and is approaching the entrance of the 
underworld, it perceives a female guardian sitting before the 
entrance, drawing a labyrinth design across the path, of which she 



erases half as the soul approaches. The voyager must restore the 
design perfectly if he is to pass through it to the Land of the Dead. 
Those who fail, the threshold guardian eats. One may understand 
how very important it must have been, then, to learn the secret of 
the labyrinth before death; and why the teaching of this secret of 
immortality is the chief concern of the religious ceremonials of 

According to a number of authorities cited by W. F. Jackson 
Knight in a highly interesting and suggestive article on "Maze 
Symbolism and the Trojan Game," the labyrinth, maze, and spiral 
were associated in ancient Crete and Babylon with the internal 
organs of the human anatomy as well as with the underworld, the 
one being the microcosm of the other. "The object of the tomb- 
builder would have been to make the tomb as much like the body 
of the mother as he was able," he writes, since to enter the next 
world, "the spirit would have to be re- bom ," 19 "The maze form— 
which is an elaborated spiral— gives a long and indirect path from 
the outside of an area to the inside, at a point called the nucleus, 
generally near the center. Its principle seems to be the provision of 
a difficult but possible access to some important point. Two ideas 
are involved: the idea of defence and exclusion, and the idea of 
the penetration, on correct terms, of this defence ." 20 "The maze 
symbolism," he states further, "seems somehow to be associated 
with maidenhood. . . . The overcoming of difficulties by a hero 
freguently precedes union with some hidden princess ." 21 

In the celebrated story of Theseus, the labyrinth, and the 
princess Ariadne, the Cretan labyrinth was difficult to enter and as 
difficult to leave, but Ariadne's thread supplied the clue. And 
when the legendary founder of Rome, the hero Aeneas, arrived, in 
the course of his journey from Troy, at the cavern- entrance of the 
underworld, he found engraved there, upon the rocky face, a 
figure of the Cretan labyrinth. And when he and his company had 
made sacrifice of abundant beeves and lambs to the ultimate deities 
of that abyss, "Lo! about the first rays of sunrise the ground 
moaned underfoot, and the woodland ridges began to stir, and 
dogs seemed to howl through the dusk as the terrible guardian, the 
Sibyl, arrived. 'Away! Depart, you unsanctified!' she cried. 'Retire 



from the grove! But thou, Aeneas, come, unsheath thy steel; now is 
need of courage, now of strong resolve! 1 Whereupon she plunged 
in ecstasy into the cavern opening, and he, unflinching, kept pace 
with his advancing guide." 22 

We have already noted that in the early Irish kingly burial mound 
of New Grange (which is to be dated somewhere in the second 
millennium B.C.) labyrinthine spirals are prominent, not only 
within the narrow passages to the "nucleus" but also, and most 
conspicuously, on the great threshold- stones at the entrances, 
where they guard the four gates, one facing in each of the four 
directions. In ancient Egypt the structure known as the Labyrinth 
(mentioned by Herodotus and Strabo, and excavated by Flinders 
Petrie in 1888) was a vast complex of buildings beside an artificial 
lake, with the tombs of kings and sacred crocodiles in the base- 
ment. The relationship (if any) of such megalithic structures and 
the rituals of their use in Egypt, Crete, and Ireland to the mortuary 
customs of remote Melanesia, which are also associated both with 
megaliths and with the symbolism of the spiral and the labyrinth, 
as well as with animal sacrifice (the sacrificial animal there, how- 
ever, being the pig), we shall consider when we come to the prob- 
lem of the origins and diffusion of the mythological motifs of the 
neolithic and equatorial culture spheres. For the present, it will 
suffioe to remark that in Malekula, when the voyager to the Land 
of the Dead has proved himself qualified to enter the cave by 
completing the labyrinth- design of the dangerous guardian, he dis- 
covers therein a great water, the Water of Life, on the shore of 
which grows a tree, which he climbs, and from which he dives into 
the waters of the subterranean sea. 23 

The Hindu mother- goddess Kali is represented with her long 
tongue lolling to lick up the lives and blood of her children. She is 
the very pattern of the sow that eats her farrow, the cannibal 
ogress: life itself, the universe, which sends forth beings only to 
consume them. And yet she is simultaneously the goddess Anna- 
purna (anna meaning "food," and purna, "abundance"), India's 
counterpart of Egyptian Isis with the sun-child Horns at her breast, 
or of Babylonian Ishtar, nursing the moon- god reborn, the archaic 


prefigurements in Mediterranean mythology and art of the Ma- 
donna of the Middle Ages. 

And so, in mythology and rite, as well as in the psychology of 
the infant, we find the imagery of the mother associated almost 
equally with beatitude and danger, birth and death, the inexhaust- 
ible nourishing breast and the tearing claws of the ogress. The 
heavenly realm, where the paradisial meal is served forever, and 
Olympus, the mountain of the gods, where ambrosia flows— these, 
certainly, are but versions fit for adult saints and heroes of the bliss 
of the well-nursed child. And the primary imprint of which the fury 
and fright of the disemboweling maw of hell is the adult amplifica- 
tion is no less certainly the child's own fantasies of its raging 
body— its whole universe— tom apart. 

A third system of imprints that can be assumed to be universal 
in the development of the mentality of the infant is that deriving 
from its fascination with its own excrement, which becomes 
emphatic at the age of about two and a half. In many societies the 
infant experiences the first impact of severe discipline in the matter 
of when, where, and how it may permit itself to respond to nature; 
the worst of it being that for the child, at this period of its life, 
defecation is experienced as a creative act and its own excrement 
as a thing of value, suitable for presentation as a gift. In societies 
in which this pattern of interest and action is regarded as unattrac- 
tive, a socially determined reorganization of response is imposed 
sharply and absolutely, the spontaneous interest and evaluations of 
the earlier period of the child's thought being then strictly re- 
pressed. But they cannot be erased. They remain as subordinated, 
written- over imprints: forbidden images, apt on occasion, or under 
one disguise or another, to reassert their force. 

Throughout the higher mythologies there is abundant evidence 
of dualistic systems of imagery deriving from this circumstance. 
They are to be recognized in the prevalence of an association of 
filth with sin and cleanliness with virtue. Hell is a foul pit and 
heaven a place of absolute purity, whether in the Buddhist, 
Zoroastrian, Hindu, Moslem, or Christian organization of the 



afterworld. Furthermore, there has been a suggestion from Dr. 
Freud to the effect that the infantile urge to manipulate filth and 
assign it value survives in our adult interest in the arts— painting, 
smearing of all kinds, sculpture, and architecture— as well as in the 
urge to collect precious stones, gold, or money, and in the 
pleasures derived from the giving and receiving of gifts. The aim 
of the sixteenth- and seventeenth- century alchemists to sublimate 
"base matter" (filth and corruption) into gold (which is pure and 
therefore incorruptible) would represent perfectly, according to this 
view, an urge to carry the energies locked in the first system of 
interests into the sphere of the superimposed second, so that, 
instead of suppression and therewith division, there should be 
effected a sublimation, or vital fusion, of the two socially opposed 
systems of the psyche, or, to use the phrase of the poet Blake, a 
Marriage of Heaven and Hell. And the fact that it was precisely at 
the time of the collapse (for many) of the authority of the 
medieval dualism of God and devil that the greatest flowering not 
only of alchemy but also of the Occidental arts took place may 
tend to confirm this psychoanalytical reading of the urge that 
brought them forth. The value of gold, of the marble and clay of the 
sculptor, and of the materials of the painter may be supposed, 
furthermore, to have been the greater inasmuch as all were derived 
from the bowels of the earth— which, according to the system of 
the saints, had long received an emphatically negative interpretation 
as the seat of hell. 

And it may be noted further, in this connection, that in 
practically every primitive society ever studied the smearing of 
paint and clay on the body is thought to give magical protection 
as well as beauty; that in India, where cowdung is revered as 
sacred and the ritual distinction between the left hand (used at 
the toilet) and the right (putting food into the mouth) is an issue 
of capital moment, a ritual smearing of the forehead and body 
with colored clays and ash is a prominently developed religious 
exercise; and, finally, that among many advanced as well as primi- 
tive peoples the sacred clowns— who in religious ceremonies are 
permitted to break taboos and always enact obscene pantomimes— 
are initiated into their orders by way of a ritual eating of filth. 



Among the J icarilla Apache of New Mexico the members of the 
clown society are actually called "Striped Excrement ." 24 They are 
smeared with a white clay and have four black horizontal stripes 
crossing their legs, body, and face . 25 In our own circuses the 
clown is garishly painted, breaks whatever taboos the police permit, 
and is a great favorite of the youngsters, who perhaps see reflected 
in his peculiar charm the paradise of innocence that was theirs 
before they were taught the knowledge of good and evil, purity 
and filth. 

A fourth constellation of imprints engraved on the maturing 
psyche of the infant appears (at least in those provinces of our 
own civilization that have been studied for these effects) at about 
the age of four, when the physical difference between the sexes 
becomes a matter of keen concern. The petite difference leads the 
girl to believe (we are told) that she has been castrated, and the 
boy that he is liable to be. Thereafter, in the masculine imagination 
all fear of punishment is freighted with an obscurely sensed castra- 
tion fear, while the female is obsessed with an envy that cannot 
be quite quenched until she has brought forth from her own body 
a son. Hence the value, from the female point of view, of the 
madonna image and the whole system of religious references 
imputing cosmic significance to her womb and breasts. But in the 
male the sense of her dangerous envy is ever present. Hence the 
negative estimate of the woman as a potential spiritual, if not 
physical, castrator, which in the mind of the child tends to become 
associated with the image of the ogress and cannibal witch, and 
in religious traditions where a monastic spirit prevails is an 
extremely prominent trait. 

In this connection it should be noted that there is a motif oc- 
curring in certain primitive mythologies, as well as in modem 
surrealist painting and neurotic dream, which is known to folk- 
lore as "the toothed vagina"— the vagina that castrates. And a 
counterpart, the other way, is the so-called "phallic mother," a 
motif perfectly illustrated in the long fingers and nose of the 
witch. According to Freud , 26 the capacity of the sight of a spider 
to precipitate a crisis of neurotic anxiety— whether in the nursery 



rhyme of Miss Muffett or in the labyrinths of modem life— derives 
from an unconscious association of the spider with the image of 
the phallic mother; to which, perhaps, should be added the observa- 
tion that the web, the spiral web, may also contribute to the 
arachnid's force as a fear- releasing sign. 

There is a myth of the Andamanese, according to which there 
were at first no women in the world, only men. Sir Monitor Lizard 
(whom we shall later meet at leisure) captured one of these, cut 
ofF his genitals, and took him to wife. Their progeny became the 
ancestors of the only race in the world with which the Andamanese 
and their mythology are concerned— to wit, the Andamanese . 27 

According to another myth— told in New Mexico by the 
J icarilla Apache Indians 28 — there once was a murderous monster 
called Kicking Monster, whose four daughters at that time were 
the only women in the world possessing vaginas. They were 
"vagina girls." And they lived in a house that was full of vaginas. 
"They had the form of women," we are told, "but they were in 
reality vaginas. Other vaginas were hanging around on the walls, 
but these four were in the form of girls with legs and all body 
parts and were walking around." As may be imagined, the rumor 
of these girls brought many men along the road; but they would be 
met by Kicking Monster, kicked into the house, and never returned. 
And so Killer- of- Enemies, a marvelous boy hero, took it upon 
himself to correct the situation. 

Outwitting Kicking Monster, Killer- of- Enemies entered the 
house, and the four girls approached him, craving intercourse. But 
he asked, "Where have all the men gone who were kicked into this 
place?" "We ate them up," they said, "because we like to do that"; 
and they attempted to embrace him. But he held them off, shouting, 
"Keep away! That is no way to use the vagina." And then he told 
them, "First I must give you some medicine, which you have never 
tasted before, medicine made of sour berries; and then I'll do what 
you ask." Whereupon he gave them sour berries of four kinds to 
eat. "The vagina," he said, "is always sweet when you do like 
this. " The berries puckered their mouths, so that finally they could 
not chew at all, but only swallowed. "They liked it very much, 
though," declared the teller of the story. "It felt just as if Killer- 



of- Enemies was having intercourse with them. They were almost 
unconscious with ecstasy, though really Killer- of- Enemies was 
doing nothing at all to them. It was the medicine that made them 
feel that way. 

"When Killer- of- Enemies had come to them," the story-teller 
then concluded, "they had had strong teeth with which they had 
eaten their victims. But this medicine destroyed their teeth 
entirely." 29 And so we see how the great boy hero, once upon a 
time, domesticated the toothed vagina to its proper use. 

Now it must have occurred to the reader during the preceding 
review of a series of imprints that, although a number of the images 
discussed are no doubt impressed upon our "open" IRMs from 
without, certain others can be the products only of the nervous 
structure itself. For where in the world would the cannibal ogress 
be? Or where the phallic mother and toothed vagina? Judging 
from the power of such images to release affects in children, as 
well as in many adults, we should call them sign stimuli of con- 
siderable force. Yet they are not in nature, but have been created 
by the mind. Whence then? Whence the images of nightmare and 
of dream? 

Perhaps a suggestive analogy is to be seen in the case of the 
grayling moth,* which prefers darker mates to those actually 
offered by its present species. For if human art can offer to a moth 
the supernormal sign stimulus to which it responds more eagerly 
than to the normal offerings of life, it can surely supply supernormal 
stimuli, also, to the IRMs of man— and not only spontaneously, in 
dream and nightmare, but even more brilliantly in the contrived folk- 
tales, fairy tales, mythological landscapes, over- and underworlds, 
temples and cathedrals, pagodas and gardens, dragons, angels, 
gods, and guardians of popular and religious art. It is true, of 
course, that the culturally developed formulations of these wonders 
have required in many cases centuries, even millenniums, to 
complete. But it is true also (and this, I believe, is what the 
present review is showing) that there is a point of support for 
the reception of such images in the deja vu of the partially self- 
shaped and self- shaping mind. In other words, whereas in the 

* Supra, p. 43. 



animal world the "isomorphs," or inherited stereotypes of the 
central nervous structure, which for the most part match the 
natural environment, may occasionally contain possibilities of 
response unmatched by nature, the world of man, which is now 
largely the product of our own artifice, represents— to a consider- 
able extent, at least— an opposite order of dynamics; namely, that 
of a living nervous structure and controlled response system 
fashioning its habitat, and not vice versa; but fashioning it not 
always consciously, by any means; indeed, for the most part, or 
at least for a very considerable part, fashioning it impetuously, out 
of its own self-produced images of rage and fear, 

A fifth and culminating syndrome of imprints of this kind, mixed 
of outer and inner impacts, is that of the long and variously argued 
Oedipus complex, which, according to the orthodox Freudian 
school, is normally established in the growing child at the age of 
about five or six, and thereafter constitutes the primary constel- 
lating pattern of all impulse, thought and feeling, imaginative art, 
philosophy, mythology and religion, scientific research, sanity and 
madness. The claim for the universality of this complex has been 
vigorously challenged by a number of anthropologists; for example, 
Bronislaw Malinowski, who, in his work on Sex and Repression in 
Savage Society declares, "The crux of the difficulty lies in the fact 
that to psychoanalysts the Oedipus complex is something absolute, 
the primordial source . . . the fons et origo of everything. . . . 
I cannot conceive of the complex as the unique source of culture, 
of organization and belief," he goes on then to say; "as the meta- 
physical entity, creative, but not created, prior to all things and not 
caused by anything else ." 30 Geza Roheim, on the other hand, 
replied in defense of Freud in a strong rebuttal , 31 to which, as far as 
I know, there has been no response. However, since our problem 
for the present is not that of the ultimate force or extent in time 
and space of this imprint, but that simply of the possibility of its 
derivation from infantile experience, we may say that whether it is 
quite as universal as strict Freudians believe, or significantly 
modified in force and character according to the sociology of the 
tribe or family in question, the fact remains that at about the age of 



five or six the youngster becomes implicated imaginatively (in our 
culture world, at least) in a ridiculous tragi-comedy that we may 
term "the family romance." 

In its classical Freudian structuring, this Oedipal romance 
consists in the more or less unconscious wish of the boy to 
eliminate his father (J ack-the-Giant- Killer motif) and be alone 
with his mother) but with a correlative fear, which is also more or 
less unconscious, of a punishing castration by the father. And so 
here, at last, the imprint of the Father has entered the psychological 
picture of the growing child— in the way of a dangerous ogre. As 
Roheim represents the case in his study of the psychology of 
primitive warfare, the father is the first enemy, and every enemy 
is symbolic of the father ; 32 indeed, "whatever is killed becomes 
father ." 33 Hence certain aspects of the headhunting rites, to which 
we shall presently be turning; hence, too, the rites of the paleolithic 
hunters in connection with the killing and eating of their totem 

For the girl, the corresponding Freudian formula is that of the 
legend of Electra. She is her mother's rival for the father's love, 
living in fear that the ogress may kill him and draw herself back 
into the web of the nightmare of that presexual cannibal feast 
(formerly paradise!) of the bambino and madonna. For times 
have changed, and it is now the little girl herself who is to play the 
madonna— to a brood of dolls. 

Since the following chapters furnish abundant instances of this 
romance of a Lilliputian and two giants, we need not pause to 
document it here, but observe, simply, that one example has already 
been supplied in the episode of Killer-of-Enemies (the boy hero). 
Kicking Monster (the father- ogre), and the Four Vagina Girls 
(who are dangerous in the father's service but susceptible of 
domestication). Four is a ritual number in American Indian lore, 
referring to the four directions of the universe, and appears in this 
story because the figures have no personal, or historical, but rather 
a cosmic mythological reference. The girls are personifications of 
an aspect of the mystery of life. 

And so, finally, to conclude this brief sketch of the Freudian 
notion of the family romance and its variations, the reaction of the 



very young male who vaguely senses that his mother is a temptress, 
seducing his imagination to incest and parricide, may be to hide his 
feelings from his own thoughts by assuming the compensatory, 
negative attitude of a Hamlet— a mental posture of excessive sub- 
mission to the jurisdiction of the father (atonement theme), to- 
gethc with a fierce rejection of the female and all the associated 
charms of the world (the fleshpots of Egypt, whore of Babylon, 

Yea, from the table of my memory 
I'll wipe away all trivial fond records. 

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past. 

That youth and observation copied there; 

And thy commandment all alone shall live 
Within the book and volume of my brain. 

Unmixed with baser matter: yes, by heaven! 

O most pernicious woman! 

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain ! 34 

Here we are on the way to the worship of the omnipotent father 
alone, monkdom, puritanism. Platonism, celibate clergies, homo- 
sexuality, and all the rest. And there is much of this, too, to be 
found in the chapters to come. 

For as long as the nuclear unit of human life has been a man, 
woman, and child, the maturing consciousness has had to come 
to a knowledge of its world through the medium of this heavily 
loaded, biologically based triangle of love and aggression, desire 
and fear, dependency, command, and the urge for release. It is 
a cooky- mold competent to shape the most recalcitrant dough. So 
that, even should it finally be shown, somehow, that the human 
nervous system is without innate form, we should still not be sur- 
prised to find in all mythology an order of sign stimuli derived 
from the engrams of these inevitables. 

IV. The Spontaneous Animism of Childhood 

It is during the years between six and twelve that youngsters in 
our culture, and apparently in most others, develop their personal 
skills and interests, moral judgments, and notions of status. The 
differentiating factors of the various natural and social environ- 



A child's drawing of his dream of the devil. After Piaget 

ments now begin to preponderate to such a degree that further talk 
of common modes of thought and action might seem to be out of 
place. Yet all the new, structuring impressions, derived from the 
greatly differing local scenes, whether accidental in their impact 
or pedagogically systematized in imposed routines of training, are 
received in terms of the mentality not of adulthood but of grow- 
ing childhood, which has certain common traits throughout the 

The enigma of the dream, for example, is at first interpreted as 
in no sense mental: it is external to the dreamer, even though in- 
visible to others. And the memory of the dream is confused with 
ordinary memories, so that the two worlds are mixed . 35 A little 
boy of five years and six months was asked, "Is the dream in your 
head?" and he answered, "I am in the dream, it is not in my head. 
When you dream you don't know you are in bed. You know you 
are walking: you are in the dream. You are in bed, but you don't 
know you are ." 38 Even at the age of seven or eight, when dreams 
can be recognized as arising in the head instead of coming from 
outside— from the moon, from the night, from the lights in the 
room or in the street, or from the sky— they are still regarded as 
in some way external. "I dreamt that the devil wanted to boil 
me, " said a little fellow of seven, explaining a picture that he had 
drawn (figure above). On the left (I) was the child himself, in bed. 
"That's me," he said. "It was specially my eyes that stayed there- 
to see." In the center was the devil. And on the right of the pic- 



tore (II) was the little boy again, standing in his nightshirt in front 
of the devil, who was about to boil him. "I was there twice over," 
he said in explanation. "When I was in bed I was really there, and 
then when I was in my dream I was with the devil, and I was 
really there too." 

The reader will not need to be told that we have here a type 
of logic that is not precisely that of Aristotle, but familiar enough 
in fairy tale and myth, where the miracle of bi- presence is pos- 
sible and the same person or object can be in two or more places 
at the same time. Shamans, we shall presently see, leave their 
bodies and ride on their drums or mounts beyond the bounds of 
the visible world, to engage in adventures with devils and gods, 
or with other shamans, all of whom, likewise, can be in more than 
one place at a time. Or we may think of the Roman Catholic dogma 
of the multipresence of Christ in the sacrament of the altar. "There 
are not as many bodies of Christ as there are tabernacles in the 
world, or as there are Masses being said at the same time," it is 
declared in a Catholic catechism of Christian doctrine, "but only 
one body of Christ, which is everywhere present, whole and entire 
in the Holy Eucharist, as God is everywhere present, while he is 
but one God." 37 Or one may think of the multipresence of the 
Hindu savior, Krishna, when he was dancing with the many milk- 
maids of Vrindavan; and the charming explanation of the religious 
experience of multipresence that was given by the maids of 
Vrindavan to one of their number. “I see Krishna everywhere," 
the beautiful Radha had said, and they replied, "Darling, you have 
painted your eyes with the collyrium of love; that is why you see 
Krishna everywhere . " 38 

We have noted that in the world of the infant the solicitude of 
the parent conduces to a belief that the universe is oriented to the 
child's own interest and ready to respond to every thought and 
desire. This flattering circumstance not only reinforces the primary 
indissociation between inside and out, but even adds to it a further 
habit of command, linked to an experience of immediate effect. 
The resultant impression of an omnipotence of thought— the power 
of thought, desire, a mere nod or shriek, to bring the world to 
heel— Freud identified as the psychological base of magic, and 



the researches of Piaget and his school support this view. The 
child's world is alert and alive, governed by rules of response and 
command, not by physical laws: a portentous continuum of con- 
sciousness, endowed with purpose and intent, either resistant or 
responsive to the child itself. And as we know, this infantile no- 
tion (or something much like it) of a world governed rather by 
moral than by physical laws, kept under control by a super- 
ordinated parental personality instead of impersonal physical 
forces, and oriented to the weal and woe of man, is an illusion 
that dominates men's thought in most parts of the world— or even 
most men's thoughts in all parts of the world— to the very present. 
We are dealing here with a spontaneous assumption, antecedent to 
all teaching, which has given rise to, and now supports, certain 
religious and magical beliefs, and when reinforced in turn by these 
remains as an absolutely ineradicable conviction, which no amount 
of rational thought or empirical science can quite erase. 

And so now it must be observed that, just as the imprints dis- 
cussed in Section III of the present chapter are susceptible of cither 
infantile or adult interpretation, so too are these experiences of 
indissociation. For even from the point of view of a stricdy bio- 
logical observation it can be shown that in a certain sense the 
indissociation of the child has a deeper validity than the adult 
experience of individuation. Biologically, the individual organism 
is in no sense independent of its world. For society is not, as 
Ralph Linton assumed, "a group of biologically distinct and self- 
contained individuals." Nor is society, indeed, apart from nature. 
Between the organism and its environment there exists what Piaget 
has termed "a continuity of exchanges ." 39 An internal and an ex- 
ternal pole have to be recognized, "but each term is in a relation 
of constant equilibrium and natural dependence with respect to 
the other." And it is only relatively slowly that a notion of indi- 
vidual freedom and sense of independence are developed— which 
then, however, may conduce not only to a manly sense of self- 
sufficiency and an order of logic in which subjective and objective 
are rationally kept apart, but to a deterioration of the unity of 
the social order as well, and to a sense of separateness, which may 
end in a general atmosphere of anxiety and neurosis. 



It has been one of the chief aims of all religious teaching and 
ceremonial, therefore, to suppress as much as possible the sense 
of ego and develop that of participation. Such participation, in 
primitive cults, is principally in the organism of the community, 
which itself is conceived as participating in the natural order of 
the local environment. But to this there may be added the larger 
notion of a community including the dead as well— as, for example, 
in the Christian idea of the Church Militant, Suffering, and Trium- 
phant: on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven. And finally, in all 
mystical effort the great goal is the dissolution of the dewdrop of 
the self in the ocean of the All: the stripping of self and the be- 
holding of the Face. 

"And when Thou didst approach my unworthiness with Thy 
greatly desired face, which bestows all bliss," wrote Saint Gertrude 
of Helfta ( 1256- 1302), "I felt that a light, ineffably vivifying, pro- 
ceeded from Thy divine eyes into mine. Penetrating my entire 
inner being, it produced in every member a most marvelous effect, 
inasmuch as it dissolved my flesh and bones to the very marrow; 
so that I had the feeling that my whole substance was nothing but 
that divine splendor which, playing upon itself in an indescribably 
delightful way, was communicating to my soul incomparable 
serenity and joy. " 40 

A like sentiment appears in the well-known verse of the Indian 
Brhadaranyaka Upani§ad (c. 800 B.c.): "Just as a man, when in 
the embrace of a beloved wife, knows nothing within or without, 
so does this being, when embraced by the Supreme Self, know 
nothing within or without." 41 

Among the treasures of the Buddhist mystics of J apan we find 
the following in the journal of the sandal- maker Saichi (c. 1850- 

My heart and Thy heart— 

The oneness of hearts — 

"Homage to Amida Buddha!" 42 

And, once again, in the words of Omar Khayyam (1050-1120) : 

My being is of Thee, and Thou art mine. 
And I am Thine, since I am Lost in Thee! 



In childhood the earliest questions asked concerning the origins 
of things betray the spontaneous assumption that somebody made 
them. "Who made the sun?" asks the child of two years and a 
half. "Who puts the stars in the sky at night?" asks another of 
three and a half . 44 In these early ruminations the first point of 
focus is the problem of the origin of the child itself, the second, 
the origin of mankind, and the last, the origin of things; but the 
compass of the search presents even learned parents with more 
than they can handle in the way of scientific and metaphysical 
challenge. One little boy, for example, presented his scholarly father 
with the following recorded series: 

At two years and three months: "Where do eggs come from?" 
And, when told: "Well, what do mummies lay?" 

At two years and six months: "Papa, were there people before 
us?" Yes. "How did they come there?" They were bom, like us. 
"Was the earth there before there were people on it?" Yes. "How 
did it get there if there were no people to make it?" 

At three years and seven months: "Who made the earth?" 

And at four years and five months: "Was there a mummy be- 
fore the first mummy?" 

At four years and nine months: "How did the first man get here 
without having a mummy?" 

And only then, but shortly following: "How was water made?" 
"What are rocks made of ?" 45 

The first notion entertained by the majority of the youngest 
children seems to be that babies are not bom or made, but found. 
"Mamma, where did you find me?" asked a youngster of three 
years and six months. "Mamma, where did I come from?" asked 
another, of three and eight. "Where is the baby now that a lady 
is going to have next summer?" asked one little genius of four 
years and ten months; and, when told: "Has she eaten it, then?" 
Another: "Do people turn back into babies when they get very 
old?" Or again, at an age of five years and four months: "When 
you die, do you grow up again?" 46 

As Professor Piaget observes, in this first stage of theorization 
babies are thought to pre-exist; however, it is realized that parents 
must have something to do with the mystery. The reader will have 



noted that the various explanations on this level come very dose 
to certain well-known primitive and archaic ideas; for example, 
that of conception through eating, which is found in myths and 
folktales throughout the world; or the idea of rebirth, which is 
perhaps already suggested even in the burials, circa 100,000 B.c., 
of Neanderthal Man.* 

The second type of infantile question concerning birth involves 
the problem not only of the whence but also that of the how. By 
this time the child's interest in his own acts of creation, liquid and 
solid, has suggested at least two possibilities, which he is not usu- 
ally willing to formulate, yet may be covertly testing through his 
questions. The queries just dted concerning the origins of water 
and rocks are manifest examples. Some sort of mysterious fabri- 
cation by the parents is supposed, either outside of their bodies or 
within, and these vaguely conceived processes then arc taken to 
be possible models for the creation of other things in the world as 
well. The child begins by assuming that adults were the makers 
of all things; for they are thought to be omniscient and omnipotent 
until events make it all too evident that they are neither. Where- 
upon the cherished image of an all-knowing, all-potent, manually 
or otherwise creating parent is simply transferred to the vague fig- 
ure of an anthropomorphic though invisible God, which has al- 
ready been furnished by parental or other instruction. 

The figure of a creative being is practically, if not absolutely, 
universal in the mythologies of the world, and just as the parental 
image is assodated in childhood not only with the power to make 
all thincp but also with the authority to command, so also in re- 
ligious thought the creator of the universe is commonly the giver 
and controller of its laws. The two orders— the infantile and the 
religious— are at least analogous, and it may well be that the latter 
is simply a translation of the former to a sphere out of range of 
critical observation. Piaget has pointed out that although the little 
myths of genesis invented by children to explain the origins of 
themselves and of things may differ, the basic assumption under- 
lying all is the same: namely, that things have to be made by some- 
one, and that they are alive and responsive to the commands of 

* Cf. supra, p. 67. 


their creators. The origin myths of the world's mythological sys- 
tems differ too; but in all except the most rarefied the conviction 
is held (as in childhood), without proof, that the living universe 
is the handiwork or emanation— psychical or physical— of some 
father- mother or mother-father God. 

The sense, then, of this world as an undifferentiated continuum 
of simultaneously subjective and objective experience (participa- 
tion), which is all alive (animism), and which was produced by 
some superior being (artificialism), may be said to constitute the 
axiomatic, spontaneously supposed frame of reference of all child- 
hood experience, no matter what the local details of this experience 
may happen to be. And these three principles, it is no less ap- 
parent, are precisely those most generally represented in the 
mythologies and religious systems of the whole world. 

In fact, the notion of participation— or indissociation between 
the subjective and objective aspects of experience— goes so far in 
the usual thinking both of infants and of the archaic philosophical 
systems that the names of things (which are certainly subjective, 
simply within the mind, and differ greatly from culture to culture) 
are thought by all children and by most archaic thinkers to be 
intrinsic to things, as their audible aspect. In the Hebrew Kab- 
bala, for example, the sounds and forms of the letters of the 
Hebrew alphabet are regarded as the very elements of reality, so 
that by correctly pronouncing the names of things, of angels, or 
even of God, the competent Kabbalist can make use of their force. 
The pronunciation of the name of God (YHVH), indeed, has al- 
ways been guarded with great care. In ancient times the sages 
communicated the pronunciation of the name to their disciples 
only once in seven years. 47 A scribe inditing biblical scrolls was 
required to place his mind in a devotional attitude when writing 
the name of God, and if he made an error in the name, in certain 
cases the mistake was irremediable and the whole column on 
which the error occurred had to be withdrawn from use,- 48 for the 
name itself could not be erased. Comparably, in the mystical disci- 
plines of the Indian Tantric tradition, where not Hebrew but 
Sanskrit is regarded as the primal language of the universe, the 
pronunciation of the name of any god will cause him to appear 



and his force to operate, since the name is the audible form of 
the god himself. The supreme Word, of which the whole universe, 
visible and invisible, is the manifestation, is in the Indian tradition 
the syllable AUM. And, of course, then there is that celebrated 
opening of the Gospel according to John: "In the beginning was 
the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through 
him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In 
him was life, and the life was the light of men . " 49 

"And God said, 'Let there be light 1 ; and there was light ." 50 

"If there weren't any words it would be very bad, " said a little 
boy of six years and six months; "you couldn't make anything. 
How could things have been made ?" 51 

The very young child does not remember when or how he first 
heard the names of things whose names he knows. He commonly 
believes that he came to know them simply by looking, and that 
the name comes into being simultaneously with the object. "What 
are names for?" a child of five years and a half was asked. "They 
are what you see when you look at things," he replied . 52 The 
name is a guality of the object, situated within it, and likewise 
known to the object. "Where is the name of the sun?" "Inside the 
sun," a child of seven said . 53 "Does a fish know its name?" the 
same little boy was asked when he was nine, and he answered, 

What has been termed "creation from nothing," and celebrated 
by theologians as an extremely elevated notion, is actually— at least 
in the text in which the notion is supposed to be documented— a 
creation from the word, through naming the name, which is one 
of the primary notions of creation entertained by the human infant. 
Moreover, in the cosmologies of archaic man, as in those of in- 
fancy, the main concern of the creator was in the weal and woe of 
man. Light was made so that we should see; night so that we might 
sleep; stars to foretell the weather; clouds to warn of rain. The 
child's view of the world is not only geocentric, but egocentric. 
And if we add to this simple structure the tendency recognized by 
Freud, to experience all things in association with the subjective 
formula of the family romance (Oedipus complex), we have a 



rather tight and very slight vocabulary of elementary ideas, which 
we may expect to see variously inflected and applied in the my- 
thologies of the world. 

It is already dear from the studies that have been made of chil- 
dren in the West— who are the only ones that have been systemati- 
cally examined— that the rational logic and sdentific views that 
ultimately replace in their thinking the spontaneous animistic and 
artifidalist theories of infancy only gradually suppress or dissolve 
the earlier notions. Names are not correctly distinguished from 
thdr referents until somewhere about the tenth or deventh year. 
Life becomes restricted to animals and plants, and consdousness 
to animals, hardly before the ages of eleven or twelve. And yet 
even after the basic laws of physics and chemistry have been 
learned, which have been so painfully drawn from nature by the 
long toil of sdenoe, when the adult is asked about the mysteries 
of creation it is sddom that he will answer in other terms than 
those of the infantile artifidalist or animist: the world has been 
made by some omnisdent god for some purpose, and we for some 
end, which we must learn to know and to serve; or else— in replies 
somewhat more sophisticated— there is within things themselves 
some force that mates them, an immanent power out of which 
they arise and back into which they go. 

In the mythologies of the world a great number of origin myths 
appear, but few more wonderful than the following, spontaneously 
invented by a nine-year-old when asked concerning the origins of 
his country. 

"How did Switzerland begin?" 

"Some people came," he answered. 

"Where from?" 

"I don't know. There were bubbles on the water and a little 
worm underneath. Then it got big and came out of the water and 
fed and grew arms and teeth and feet and a head and it turned 
into a baby." 

"Where did the bubble come from?" 

"From the water. The worm came out of the water and the 
bubble broke and the worm came out." 

"What was there at the bottom of the water?" 



"The bubble, which came out of the ground." 

"And what happened to the baby?" 

"He got big and had babies. By the time he died the babies 
had children. Later on some of them became French, some Ger- 
man, some Savoyards. . . ." 54 

It seems safe to assume, at this point, that no comment on this 
origin myth is necessary. Most readers can no doubt recall early 
myths of their own invention that were of somewhat the same 
order. With this we leave the course of our common childhood be- 
hind— the childhood of our species, perhaps, since the hoary days 
of Neanderthal— and move on to see what the adult shamans, 
priests, and philosophers have managed to achieve beyond this 
level, in the reading and representation of the enigma of life. 

v. The System of Sentiments of the Local Group 

The transformation of the child into the adult, which is achieved 
in higher societies through years of education, is accomplished on 
the primitive level more briefly and abruptly by means of the 
puberty rites that for many tribes are the most important cere- 
monials of their religious calendar. 

When a Central Australian Aranda youngster is between ten and 
twelve years old, for example, he and the other members of his 
age group are taken by the men of the village and tossed several 
times into the air, while the women, dancing around the company, 
wave their arms and shout. Each boy then is painted on his chest 
and back with simple designs by a man related to the social group 
from which his wife must come, and as they paint the patterns the 
men sing: "May he reach to the stomach of the sky, may he grow 
up to the stomach of the sky, may he go right into the stomach of 
the sky." The boy is told that he now has upon him the mark of 
the particular mythological ancestor of whom he is the living 
counterpart; for it is thought that the children bom to women are 
the reappearances of beings who lived in the mythological age, in 
the so-called "dream time," or altjeringa. The boys are told that 
from now on they will not play or camp with the women and girls, 
but with the men; they will not go with the women to grub for 


roots and to hunt such small game as rats and lizards, but will 
join the men and hunt the kangaroo . 55 

In this simple rite it is apparent that the image of birth has been 
transferred from the mother to the sky and that the concept of the 
ego has been expanded, simultaneously, beyond the biography of 
the physical individual. A woman gave birth to the boy's temporal 
body, but the men will now bring him to spiritual birth. They will 
continue and consummate his post-uterine gestation, the long 
process of his growth to a fully human maturity, refashioning his 
body, and his mind as well, joining him to his eternal portion, be- 
yond time. Furthermore, in the ceremonials that he will presently 
observe the tasks proper to his manhood will in every detail be 
linked to mythological fantasies of a time-transcending order, so 
that not only himself but his whole worid and his whole way of 
life within it will be joined inseparably, through myths and rites, 
to the field of the spirit. 

Henceforth, all life on earth is to be recognized as a projection 
on the plane of temporal event of forms, objects, and personali- 
ties forever present in the permanent no-where, no-when, of the 
mythological age, the altjeringa, "dream time," when all was magi- 
cal, as it is in dream: the realm that is seen again in dream and 
shown forth in the rites. The boy is himself a mythological, eternal 
being who has become incarnate; his fellows, too, are the mani- 
festations of eternal forms; likewise, the kangaroos that he will 
soon be hunting and the well-known desert reaches where the 
magical mystery play of the hunt will be enacted in the serious 
game of life— the mystery play of the death and reappearance of 
the kangaroo, who is to give his flesh, as a willing victim, to be 
the food of men. No child— no woman— is aware of the real 
marvel of this dual mystery, wherein the timeless and the temporal 
are the same. This secret dimension of the world is the revelation 
of the men's rites, through which the mind grows to knowledge, 
and after beholding which one is far above the plane of the 
mental system of the child. It is a marvel, a source of wonder, well 
worth the pain and fright of a second birth. And meanwhile, 
throughout the physical as well as psychological ordeal of bans- 



formation, in compensation for the earthly mother lost, the boy's 
pliant mind and will are to be directed forward to the image of his 
manhood with an earthly wife. 

It is clear what is happening. The imprints irreversibly estab- 
lished in infancy as energy- releasing signs are being reorganized, 
and through an extremely vivid, increasingly frightening and un- 
forgettable series of controlled experiences are in the end to be so 
recomposed that the boy's course will be directed forward into 
manhood: not to any merely open, uncommitted manhood, but 
specifically to a certain style of thought and feeling, impulse and 
action, comporting with the requirements of the local group. For 
it is at this point in his development that the mores, ideology, and 
motivations of the local system of life are to be assimilated into 
his psyche, fused with his spiritual substance, and thus made his 
own, as he is made theirs. 

As already remarked, in the words of Radcliffe- Brown: * "A 
society depends for its existence on the presence in the minds of 
its members of a certain system of sentiments by which the con- 
duct of the individual is regulated in conformity with the needs 
of the society"; and further: "the sentiments in question are not 
innate but are developed in the individual by the action of the 
society upon him." It is in the rites of initiation that these senti- 
ments of the local system are established through a forced fusion 
with the primary system of the mentality of childhood, which, as 
we have seen, is universal— or practically universal— to the human 
race. The system of sentiments of the local group, however, has 
been constellated not primarily, or even secondarily, to gratify 
the crude wishes of the growing adolescent for sensual pleasure and 
manly power, but rather in the general interest of a group having 
certain specific local problems and limitations. The crude energies 
of the young human animal are to be cowed, broken, recoordinated 
to a larger format, and thus at once domesticated and amplified. 
Hence, although the rites certainly have a psychological function 
and must be interpreted in terms of the general psychology of the 
human species, each local system itself has a long history behind 
it of a particular sort of social experience and cannot be explained 

* Cf. supra, p. 33. 


9 ! 

in general psychological terms. It has been dosely adjusted to spe- 
cific, geographically determined conditions of existence, and com- 
prehends, furthermore, certain archaic notions of cosmology that 
have been derived from millenniums of meditation on the recog- 
nized natural order of the living world. From culture to culture, 
the sign symbols presented in the rites of initiation differ con- 
siderably, and they have to be studied, consequently, from a his- 
torical as well as from a psychological point of view. It must be 
recognized that either view alone is an oversimplification. 

No functioning mythological system can be explained in terms of 
the universal images of which it is constituted. These images are 
developed largely from such infantile imprints as those that we 
have just reviewed and constitute merely the raw material of myth. 
They carry the energies of the psyche into the mythological context 
and weld them to the historical task of the society, where the sym- 
bols function, not in the way of a regressive recall of the spirit to 
the joys and sorrows, desires and terrors of litde Oedipus, or of 
the earlier bambino, but rather as releasers and directors of the 
energies into the field of adult experience and performance. My- 
thology, that is to say, is progressive, not regressive. And the rites 
themselves, through which the new sign symbols are impressed on 
the minds of the growing young in such a way as to recondition 
the entire system of their innate releasing mechanisms, constitute 
one of the most interesting and crucial foci of our subject. For it 
is precisely here that we confront directly the problem of the 
meeting of the general and the particular, of the elementary and 
the ethnic, in the field of myth. The initiation rite is the caldron 
of their fusion. 

And should the fusion not take place? 

If it should happen in the case of any particular individual that 
the impress of the socially enforced reorganization of the infantile 
imagery should fail of its proper effect, that particular individual's 
personal system of references, and consequently of sentiments, 
would remain essentially infantile and therefore aberrant, isolating, 
shameful, and frightening, so that the sort of disorientation known 
so well to the psychoanalytic couches of our contemporary, lit- 
erarily instead of mythologically and ritually educated civilization 



would inevitably result. In the traumatic experience of his second 
birth the individual would have suffered an accident precisely 
comparable to a misbirth or physical accident in the first. In which 
case, of course, a regressive interpretation of his peculiar mode 
of experiencing the imagery of local myth would be in order. How- 
ever, for the psychoanalyst then to make use of the fantasies of 
that regressive case as a key to the scientific understanding of the 
progressively functioning mythology and ceremonialism of the 
social group in question would be about as appropriate as to mis- 
take a pancake for a souffle. 

It is possible that the failure of mythology and ritual to function 
effectively in our civilization may account for the high incidence 
among us of the malaise that has led to the characterization of our 
time as "The Age of Anxiety. " Or it may be that it is only among 
our poets and artists, journalists and Ph.D.s that the impress of 
our socially framed system of sentiments has failed of effect; so 
that this notion of the prevalence of anxiety is an invention pe- 
culiar to them, based rather on their own sophisticated pathology 
than on the more naive state of health of the majority of their 
fellows. But in either case it would certainly seem that when an 
essentially cerebral emphasis preponderates in the schooling of 
the young, as it does in our highly literate society, an alarming in- 
cidence of serious failure is to be expected in the difficult passage 
of the critical threshold from the system of sentiments proper to 
infancy to that of the responsibilities of the hour— and that, con- 
sequently, any attempt to interpret the symbolism of archaic man 
on the basis of contemporary thought and feeling must be ex- 
tremely dangerous. 

In following the further progress of the puberty rites and 
ordeals of the Central Australian Aranda, therefore, it will be 
well to leave the diches of modem psychology to one side and 
focus, rather, on the particular character and tasks of the local 
desert scene, where the temperature at noon is frequently as high 
as one hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit; where the normal 
sodal unit is a little cluster of intimately known relatives and com- 
panions, all of whom, both male and female, are stark naked; 
where there is no written tradition through which the corpus of 



tribal knowledge, style of spiritual life, and techniques of sub- 
sistence can be communicated; and where the chief object of the 
hunt is the bounding kangaroo. 

The real trials of the growing youngster, and the second stage 
of his initiation into both the duties and the knowledge of his in- 
evitable estate, commence one evening, suddenly, in the men's 
camp, when he is pounced upon by three strong young fellows, 
loudly shouting, who bear him off frightened and struggling, to a 
ceremonial ground that has been prepared for his circumcision. 
The whole community is there to greet him, women as well as 
men, and when he finds himself among them his struggles cease. 

He is placed among the men, and the women at once begin to 
dance, flourishing shields. They are now the women of the age 
of dream, the altjeringa age, who danced this way when the young 
men of the age of the ancestors were to be initiated; and the men 
sing while they perform. When the boy has watched and listened 
for some time— never having seen such things before— strands of 
fur string are wound around his head to make a tightly fitting cap, 
and there is tied about his waist a girdle of twisted hair, such as he 
has seen the men wear. Three men then lead him through the 
dancing women to a brake of bushes behind which he is now to 
remain for a number of days. They paint on him a design and 
warn him that he has now entered upon a higher stage of young 
manhood. He must never disclose to any woman or boy any of 
the secret things that he is about to see and learn. Throughout the 
coming ceremony he is not to utter a word unless addressed, and 
then only to answer as briefly as possible. And he is to remain 
crouching behind his brake until called. Should he attempt to see 
what he is forbidden to see, the great spirit whose voice he has 
heard in the sound of the bull- roarers would carry him away. And 
so he sits alone and silently all night, behind the brake, while the 
men dance on the ceremonial ground. 

The next day the boy's mother arrives, accompanied by the 
sisters of his father and by the woman whose daughter has been 
assigned to become his wife. All night the boy's mother has kept 
a fire burning in her camp, and she now brings in her hands two 



long sticks lighted from this fire. The men sing a fire- song while 
the mother hands one stick to the woman who is to become the 
boy's mother-in-law, and the latter, approaching the boy, ties 
some bands of fur string around his neck, hands him the fire- stick, 
and tells him to hold fast to his own fire; that is to say, never to 
interfere with women assigned to other men. This rite concluded, 
the boy returns to his brake with the fire- stick, and the women go 
back with the second fire- stick to their camp. 

The boy is now taken into the forest, where he sits guietly for 
three days and is given little to eat. The great solemnity of the 
rites that he is about to behold is thus impressed upon his whole 
mind and he is prepared to receive the impact of their imagery. 
On the fourth day he is returned to his brake, and that night the 
men's performances begin. They are to continue for about a week. 

The first rite of the particular series observed by Baldwin Spencer 
and F. J . Gillen, described in their important work on The Native 
Tribes of Central Australia , 56 commenced after dark, with the boy 
still crouching in his retreat. The old men sang the legend of the 
ancestors of the Little Hawk totem group, who in the altjeringa, 
"dream time" of the mythological age, introduced the art of cir- 
cumcising with a stone knife instead of with a fire- stick. We may 
read in this theme a dim reference to some recent or ancient trans- 
formation of the ritual tradition, perhaps following such a fusion 
of two peoples as the recent studies of Australian culture strata 
and ancient petroglyphs have begun to indicate .'" 7 But we must 
recognize also that the fire- stick that the boy has just received 
from the two mothers is in the context of the rite an explicit refer- 
ence to the controlled release of his own sexual fire, which is to 
be socially authorized through the ritual ordeal of his impending 
circumcision— the second stick, to which his own is to be directed, 
being now in the precinct of his selected wife. 

The scries of remarkable rites, crude as it may seem to the civil- 
ized eye, is not to be dismissed as simply a superstitious work of 
primitive ignorance. On the contrary, it is the functioning implement 
of a primitive wisdom, which, in some aspects at least, is more so- 
phisticated and effective than much of our own, the chief aim being 
pedagogical, or, as we might perhaps better say, hermetical: the 



magical transformation of a psyche. In fact, in a very real sense, it 
is an example of the early actuality from which the later medieval 
European idea of homunculus evolved, which Goethe has handled 
with such subtle psychological and historical understanding in the 
second part of his Faust: the mysterious art through which a little 
man {homunculus) is brought into being from the crude stufF (ma- 
teria prima) supplied by nature. 

At midnight the boy undergoing the ordeal was blindfolded, led 
from his brake, and placed face downward at the edge of the dance 
ground, then, after a time, was told to sit up and look; whereupon 
he saw lying before him a decorated man who represented, as he 
was told, a wild dog. A second decorated man was standing with 
legs apart at the other end of the dance ground, holding up twigs 
of eucalyptus in each hand, and having on his head a sacred orna- 
ment emblematic of the kangaroo. The kangaroo moved its head 
from side to side, as though watching for something, and every now 
and then uttered the call of the kangaroo. The dog looked up, saw 
the other, began barking, and suddenly, running along on all fours, 
passed between the other's legs and lay down behind him, the kan- 
garoo watching the dog over his shoulder. The wild dog then ran be- 
tween the kangaroo's legs once again, but this time was caught and 
thoroughly shaken. A pretense was made of dashing his head against 
the ground, whereupon he howled, as if in pain, until, finally, he was 
supposed to have been killed. He lay still for a while, but then, on 
all fours, came running to the boy candidate and lay on top of him. 
The kangaroo hopped over and lay on top of the two, and the boy 
had to bear their weight for about two minutes; when they got up, 
he was told that their mime represented an event of the altjeringa 
age, when a wild- dog man attacked a kangaroo man and was killed. 
He was sent back to his brake, and the men continued singing 
throughout the night. 

This sort of thing went on for the boy's instruction for six days 
and nights. Kangaroo men, rat men, dog men, little night hawks 
and big performed their legends, lay on top of him, and went away. 
But then, on the seventh day, behind his brake, the boy was sol- 
emnly rubbed all over with grease and three men carefully painted 
his back with a design of white pipe- clay, while on the dance 



ground a number of performances were enacted in which the 
women had a role. Suddenly the sound was heard of approaching 
bull- roarers, and the women fled. The lad was lying on his back. 
The men piled poles on top of him, banging them up and down 
upon his body, beating time, while they sang, over and over, the 
following verse: 

Night, twilight, a great clear light: 

A cluster of trees, sky- like, rising red as the sun. 

"All," as our observers tell us, "was now excitement." 

The fire was giving out a brilliant light and the two men who 
were to perform the circumcision took their position at the western 
end of the ceremonial ground. 

With their beards thrust into their mouths, their legs widely 
extended and their arms stretched forward, the two men stood 
perfectly still, the actual operator in front and his assistant 
pressing dose up behind him, so that their bodies were in con- 
tact with each other. The front man held in his extended right 
hand the small flint knife with which the operation was to be 
conducted, and, as soon as they were in position, the boy's 
future father-in-law, who was to act as shield bearer, came 
down the lines, carrying the shield on his head and at the 
same time snapping the thumb and first finger of each hand. 
Then, facing the fire, he knelt down on one knee just a little 
in front of the operator, holding his shield above his head. 
During the whole time the bull- roarers were sounding every- 
where so loudly that they could easily be heard by the women 
and children in their camp, and by them it is supposed that the 
roaring is the voice of the great spirit Twanyirika, who has 
come to take the boy away. 58 

The legend told to the women and children concerning Twan- 
yirika is not a true myth but a "screening allegory," coined to hide 
from exoteric view the facts of an esoteric rite, while suggesting 
symbolically the rite's spiritual sense. Many such screening leg- 
ends are represented in the history of religion, hermetic philosophy, 
mysticism, and pedagogy. They are not to be confused with such 
outright parodies and frauds as those of the old Eskimo shaman 
Najagneq, which were invented to intimidate his fellow villagers.* 

* Cf. supra, p. 53. 



They serve a double function. The first is that of excluding those 
not eligible for initiation from the knowledge of the crucial mys- 
tery and thus protecting the force of the rites when properly ap- 
plied; but the second is that of readying the minds of those to be 
initiated for the full impact of the shock of a revelation that will 
not controvert the allegory but disclose its reference. The allegory 
of Twanyirika tells of a spirit dwelling in wild, inaccessible re- 
gions, who arrives at initiation time to enter the body of the boy, 
after the operation, and bear him away into the wilderness until 
he is well. The spirit then quits the boy, who returns to the camp 
an initiated man . 59 

Still believing in Twanyirika, the boy is lying on his back be- 
neath the rising and falling poles. The deep, loud tones of the 
circumcision song are being thundered out by all the men, when, 
suddenly, the poles are removed and the boy, lifted by two strong 
fellows, is carried feet foremost to the shield, upon which he is 
placed. Quickly the assistant drcumdser grasps the foreskin, pulls 
it out as far as possible, and the operator cuts it off Immediately, 
all the men who have aded in any offidal capacity in the rite 
disappear, and the boy, in a more or less dazed condition, is told 
by those who carried him, "You have done well, you have not 
cried out. " He is conducted back to the place where the brake had 
stood but now is gone, and receives the congratulations of the men. 
The blood from his wound is allowed to flow into a shield and 
while he is still bleeding some of the bull-roarers are brought up 
and pressed against the wound. He is told that it was these, and 
not Twanyirika, that made the sound— and thus he is forced past 
the last bogey of childhood. He learns at the same time that the 
bull- roarers are tjurunga, sacred objects deriving from the mytho- 
logical age and realm. He is introduced to all the functionaries by 
their ceremonial names and given a packet of ljurungas by the 

"Here is Twanyirika, of whom you have heard so much," the 
old man tells him. "These are ljurunga. They will help to heal you 
quickly. Guard them well and do not lose them, or you and your 
blood and tribal mothers and sisters will be killed. Do not let them 
out of your sight. Do not let your blood and tribal mothers and 


sisters see you. The man in charge will remain with you. Do not 
eat forbidden food." 

The boy, meanwhile, is standing over a fire whose smoke is 
supposed to heal his wound; 60 but there is a second meaning to 
this action of the smoke, for in Australia a child is smoked at birth, 
to purify it: the lad has just undergone at this moment his second 

Geza Roheim, in his psychoanalytic studies of Australian ritual 
and myth, has pointed out that the simulated attitude of the cir- 
cumdsers in this rite "is that of a furious father attacking his son's 
penis"; the two men chew their beards to simulate wrath, and their 
ceremonial name is the "pain makers." 61 Moreover, in the myths 
of the origin of the rite it is told that originally the boys died, but 
that the substitution of the flint knife for the fire- stick mitigated 
the danger of the operation. "The dramatized anger of both the 
father and the drcumdser and the myths of the original initiation 
in which all the boys were killed," wrote Dr. Roheim, "certainly 
show the Oedipal aggression of the elder generation as the basic 
drive behind initiation. In this sense therefore we are perfectly 
justified in calling drcumdsion a mitigated form of castration." 62 

"The growing boy, " observes Roheim further, "with his increased 
strength and sexual desire is a dangerous threat to the stability of 
the horde. Among the Pitjentara tribe [who dwell just to the west 
of the Aranda], when the lads are beginning to show development 
(in stature, in the appearance of pubic hair, and in general de- 
meanor) with the approach of puberty, their female kinsfolk arm 
themselves with digging- sticks and at dusk form a cirde around 
one or more of the youths. They prod and beat the boys about the 
legs and shoulders unmerdfully so that they become half- stupefied. 
This may happen just before initiation ceremonies are to be held, 
or weeks or even months before. . . . 

"According to the Ngatatara and Western Aranda, if the young 
men were not subjected to the discipline of the initiation ritual they 
would become demons (erinlja), would fly up into the sky, and 
kill and eat the old men." 63 To keep them down, the old men kill 
and eat the boys symbolically— or even actually if the boys do 
not obey, which, if we may judge from what has been learned about 


the phenomenology of juvenile delinquency in recent years, is per- 
haps not an excessive threat, after all. 

But there is another side to the work of the elders besides that 
of intimidation. They must woo their sons from the primary in- 
fantile attachment to their mothers through an effective conjuration 
of their sympathy. During the course of the painful rites, therefore, 
the lads, at times, are given nothing to eat or drink but the men's 
blood. They take it from bowls, either in liquid form or coagulated 
and carved like cake. The blood is poured over them, also, as a 
bath. And so they are literally soaked, inside and out, in the good 
body content of the fathers, which has been drawn in almost in- 
credibly great quantities from the men's arms and subindsion 
wounds. The men jab the subindsion scars of their penises or 
slash the insides of their arms, and the blood pours forth, which 
then is used not only as food and drink for the boys, but also as 
paint for the ceremonials and as a kind of glue, to make the bird- 
down decorations stick to their bodies when they assume the forms 
of the ancestors for the sacred rites. Thus the blood is physical 
food, like mothers' milk, but spiritual food also (which the mothers 
cannot furnish) : no mere children's food, nourishing only the body, 
but truly man's food, the amniotic fluid and energizing force of 
the alchemy of this frightening yet fascinating crisis of the second 

On the psychological side, then, we may say that the boy is 
being carried across the difficult threshold, from the sphere of 
dependency on the mothers to that of participation in the nature 
of the fathers, not only by means of a decisive physical transforma- 
tion of his own body (first, in the rite of circumcision, just re- 
viewed, and then, more cruelly, as we shall presently see, in the 
rite of subincision), but also by means of a series of intense psy- 
chological experiences, reawakening but at the same time reor- 
ganizing all the primary imprints and fantasies of the infantile 
unconscious. Or, to use the Freudian jargon, the elders arouse, 
absorb, and redirect their sons' Oedipal impulses to aggression 
(destrudo: thanatos) and simultaneously their will to live and 
love (libido: eros). As we have just seen, the boy's future father- 


in-law is the functionary who offers him on a shield to the opera- 
tion. "What is cut off the boy," writes Dr. Roheim, "is really the 
mother; as compensation he naturally receives a wife. . . . The 
glans in the foreskin is the child in the mother ." 64 

But there is another aspect to this great world of the men's 
rites, for which no merely psychological reading of their symbolism 
can adequately account; namely, the particular mythological field 
to which the boy's intellect is being introduced. His crude energies 
of love and aggression are being broken from their primary spheres 
of reference and reorganized for manhood; but the particular sys- 
tem of imagery through which this psychological transformation 
is being effected has been determined not exclusively by general 
psychological laws, but also, and perhaps equally, by the particular 
social concerns of the local group. 

And we may well marvel at the simple, adroit, wonderfully di- 
rect manner in which the participation of his interest is elicited. 
We have already seen how the sacred objects of his tribe were first 
presented to his awakened imagination. Throughout his childhood 
the boy had heard the awesome sound of the bull- roarers at the 
time of the mysteries of the men's camp, and had been told that 
the curiously whirring hum was the voice of a spirit that at the 
time of his own initiation would enter his body and support him 
to manhood. An anxious sense of interest and curiosity had thus 
been aroused, which, at the time of the revelation, was consider- 
ably shocked when it appeared that the actual spirit was a bit of 
flat wood, about a foot and a half long, bearing a scratched 
design on its surface, and whirled at the end of a long string. The 
childhood bogey was abruptly collapsed into this tangible stick— 
which, however, was declared to have been derived from the 
mythological realm and to be of the profoundest import both to 
the boy himself, as representing his own eternal aspect, and to 
his people, as constituting one of a constellation of sacred objects, 
known as tjurunga, revered in the tribal rites. Pressed to the boy's 
bleeding circumcision wound, his tjurunga turned his mind from 
a sense of loss to one of gain and directly joined him, both emo- 
tionally and in thought, to the realm of myth. 

But the reader, meanwhile, must certainly have recalled, per- 



haps with a touch of wonder, the celebrated Classical myth of the 
death and second birth (through his father Zeus) of the babe 

When the great goddess Demeter— we are told— arrived in 
Sicily from Crete with her daughter Persephone, whom she had 
conceived of Zeus, she discovered a cave near the spring of 
Kyane, where she hid the maiden, setting to guard her the two 
serpents that were normally harnessed to the maiden's chariot. 
And Persephone there began weaving a web of wool, a great robe 
on which there was to be a beautiful picture of the universe; while 
her mother. Demeter, contrived that the girl's father, Zeus, should 
learn of her presence. The god approached his daughter in the form 
of a serpent, and she conceived of him a son, Dionysos, who was 
bom and nurtured in the cave. The infant's toys were a ball, a 
top, dice, some golden apples, a bit of wool, and a bull- roarer. 
But he was also given a mirror, and while he was gazing into this, 
delighted, there approached him stealthily, from behind, two Titans, 
who had been sent to slay him by the goddess Hera, the jealous 
wife and queen of his father, Zeus. And they were painted with a 
white clay or chalk. Pouncing upon the playing child, they tore 
him into seven parts, boiled the portions in a caldron supported 
by a tripod, and then roasted them on seven spits. However, when 
they had consumed their divine sacrifice— all except the heart, 
which had been rescued by the goddess Athene— Zeus, attracted 
by the odor of the roasting meat, entered the cave and, when he 
beheld the scene, slew the white-painted cannibal Titans with a 
bolt of lightning. The goddess Athene thereupon presented the 
rescued heart in a covered basket to the father, who accomplished 
the resurrection— according to one version of the miracle— by 
swallowing the precious relic and himself then giving birth to 
his son . 65 

It surely is no mere accident, nor consequence of parallel de- 
velopment, that has brought the bull-roarers on the scene for 
both the Greek and the Australian occasions, as well as the figures 
masquerading in white (the Australians wearing bird down, the 
Greek Titans smeared like clowns with a white clay) . For the Titans 
were divine beings of an earlier generation than the gods. They 


were the children of the sky and earth, and from two of their 
number, Kronos and Rhea, the gods themselves— the Olympians— 
were bom. They and their mythology derive horn an earlier 
stratum of thought, and religion than the Classical pantheon of the 
Olympians, and the episodes in which they appear have frequently 
traits of an extremely primitive tone. A number of recent scholars 
have pointed to the parallels between these traits and those of 
the rites of living primitive tribes . 66 From the Greeks, however, 
we do not leam through what motheriy organ Father Zeus could 
have given birth to his son. In the primitive ritual this now ap- 

For the next dramatic series of instructions and ordeals to 
which the young Australian is subjected are those of his sub- 
incision, which follow the rites of circumcision after an interval 
of some five or six weeks— depending on the time required by the 
boy for recovery from the first operation. These extremely painful 
rites commence with a brief series of instructive mimes, which 
terminate with the planting of a sacred pole in the ground: a pole 
made of a long spear ensheathed in grass, bound with a string of 
human hair, and ornamented with alternate rings of red and white 
birds' down, having a large tuft of eagle- hawk feathers affixed to 
the top. And when the pole, following a final mime and dance, 
has been planted, the youth is told to embrace it, for it will prevent 
the operation from being painful; he need not be afraid. One of the 
men lies on the ground, face downward, and a second lies on top 
of him. The boy is led from the pole and placed full length, face 
upward, on this living table, while the company sets up a great 
shout. Immediately a third man, sitting astride the boy's body, 
grasps the penis and holds it ready for the stone knife, while the 
operator, appearing suddenly, slits the whole length of the urethra 
from below. 

Meanwhile, in the women's camp, the boy's female relatives, 
having heard the men's shout, are ceremonially slashed across the 
stomach and shoulders by the boy's mother. 

The boy is lifted away and squats over a shield into which the 
blood is allowed to drain, while one or more of the younger men 
present, who have been operated on before, stand up and volun- 


tarily undergo a seoond operation to increase the length of their 
incisions. These stand, hands behind their backs and legs wide 
apart, dose to the sacred pole, and shout, "Come and slit mine to 
the root!" They are pinioned horn behind, and the operator cuts 
them to the root. "Most men at some time or other undergo the 
second operation," write Spencer and Gillen, "and some come 
forward a third time, though a man is often as old as thirty or 
thirty-five before he submits to this second operation ." 67 

The sexual aspect of the symbolism of this fantastic rite is 
almost too obvious to require comment The subindsion wound is 
frequently referred to as a "penis womb or vagina "; 68 so that the 
male has been intentionally converted by the operation into a 
male-female. "The 'vaginal father,' " as Dr. Roheim has observed, 
"replaces the 'phallic mother 1 of the infantile situation," 69 and the 
blood that is drawn from the subindsion wounds, therefore, cor- 
responds in the men's imagination to the menstrual blood of the 
women— which in the usages of women's magic is extremely 
potent. That one of the most pronounced traits of primitive 
psychology, in many parts of the world, is the savage male's honor 
of menstruation has long been a commonplace of anthropological 
knowledge . 70 "It is a well-known fact," states Dr. Roheim, "that the 
sight of the bleeding vagina produces castration anxiety in the 
male. . . . The boys must always have bear afraid of the castrat- 
ing vagina; now the fathers have this powerful weapon ." 71 But 
now, too, the lads themsdves have been given it. Their traumatic 
separation from the mother in the rite of drcumdsion has thus 
been balanced by an achievement of identification, simultaneously 
with the mothers and with the fathers. "We are not afraid of the 
bleeding vagina," they now can say; "we have it ourselves. It does 
not threaten the penis; it is the penis." And finally: "We are not 
separated from the mother; for 'we two are one.' " 72 

But there is more to the matter than this psychological theme; 
for there is a mythological theme consdously assodated with the 
rite, which has to be taken into account also. 

The Western world is well acquainted with one version of the 
assodated myth in its biblical tradition. In the Book of Genesis it 


is written that God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, "and 
while he slept took one of his ribs and dosed up its place with 
flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he 
made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man 
said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; and 
she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 1 
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to 
his wife and they become one flesh." 73 Before the separation of 
Eve, Adam was both male and female. 

Or consider the allegory in Plato's Symposium, where it is 
stated by Alcibiades— playfully, yet in the form of the same myth 
— that the earliest human beings were "round and had four hands 
and four feet, back and sides forming a circle, one head with two 
faces looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely 
alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to 
correspond." According to this Platonic version of the great 
theme, these original creatures were of three kinds; male- male, 
male-female, and female- female. They were immensely powerful; 
and since the gods were in fear of their strength, Zeus decided to 
cut them in two, like apples halved for pickling. 

or as you might divide an egg with a hair; and as he cut them 
one after another, he bade Apollo give the face and the half 
neck a turn. . . . Apollo twisted the face and pulled the skin 
around over that which in our language is called the belly, 
like the purses which draw in, and he made one mouth at the 
center, which he fastened in a knot (this is called the navel); 
he also moulded the breast and took out most of the wrinkles, 
much as a shoemaker might smooth out leather upon a last; 
he left a few, however, in the region of the belly and navel, 
as a memorial of the primeval change. After the division the 
two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, 
and threw their arms about one another eager to grow into 
one, and would have perished from hunger without ever mak- 
ing an effort, because they did not like to do anything 
apart . . : so ancient is the desire of one another which is 
implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of 
two, and healing the state of man. Each of us when separated 
is but the indenture of a man, having one side only like a flat 
fish, and he is always looking for his other half. 74 



In China we learn of the Holy Woman, the Great Original, 
T'ai Yuan, who combined in her person the active- masculine and 
the passive- feminine powers of nature, the yang and the yin . 75 

And finally, in the Vedic Indian Brhadaranyaka Upani§ad we 

... in the beginning this universe was but the Self in the 
form of a man. He looked around and saw nothing but him- 
self. Thereupon, his first shout was, "It is I!"; whence the con- 
cept "I" arose.— And that is why, even today, when ad- 
dressed, one answers first, "It is I!" then gives the other name 
that one bears. . . . 

Then he was afraid.— And that is why anyone alone is 
afraid.— He considered: "Since there is nothing here but my- 
self, what is there to fear?" Whereupon the fear departed; for 
what should have been feared? it is only to a second that fear 

However, he still lacked delight.— Therefore, one lacks de- 
light when alone. — He desired a second. He was just as large 
as a man and woman embracing. This Self then divided him- 
self in two parts; and with that, there were a master and mis- 
tress.— Therefore this body, by itself, as the sage Yajnavalkya 
declares, is like half of a split pea. And that is why, indeed, 
this space is filled by a woman.— He united with her, and from 
that mankind arose. 

She, however, reflected: "How can he unite with me, who 
am produced from himself? Well then, let me hide!" She be- 
came a cow, he a bull and united with her; and from that cat- 
tle arose. She became a mare, he a stallion; she an ass, he a 
donkey and united with her; and from that solid-hoofed ani- 
mals arose. She became a goat, he a buck; she a sheep, he a 
ram and united with her; and from that goats and sheep 
arose.— Thus he poured forth all pairing things, down to the 

Then he realized: "I, actually, am creation; for I have 
poured forth all this." Whence arose the concept "Creation" 
Lsrsf ih: literally, "what is poured forth, projected, sent forth, 
emanated, generated, let go, or given away"]. — One who thus 
understands becomes, himself, truly a creator in this crea- 
tion . 76 

The primitive Australian renditions of this mythological motif 
that has served so well to support some of the most elevated 


themes of the high civilizations are numerous and give a new 
dimension to the mystery of the ritual that we have just observed. 

In the beginning, we hear, for example, from the Northern 
Aranda of the Bandicoot Totem, all was darkness: night op- 
pressed the earth like an impenetrable thicket. And the ancestor 
of the bandicoots, whose name was Karora, lay asleep in the ever- 
lasting night, at the bottom of the soak of Ilbalintja, where there 
was not yet water. Above him the soil was red with flowers and 
overgrown with many grasses; and a great sacred pole swayed 
above him, which had sprung from the midst of the bed of flowers. 
At its root rested the head of Karora, whence it mounted upward 
toward the sky, as though to strike the vault of the heavens. It 
was a living creature, covered with a smooth skin, like the skin of 
a man. 

Karora's head lay at the root of this great swaying pole, and 
had been resting thus from the beginning. But Karora was thinking: 
wishes and desires flashed through his mind. Bandicoots then 
began to come out of his navel and from his armpits. They burst 
through the sod above and sprang into life. Dawn began to break. 
The sun began to rise. And the bandicoot ancestor rose too: he 
burst through the crust that had covered him and the gaping 
hole that he left behind became Ilbalintja Soak, filled with the 
sweet dark juice of the honeysuckle buds. 

The bandicoot ancestor now felt hungry, for the magic had gone 
out of his body. Feeling dazed, slowly fluttering his eyelids, he 
opened his eyes a little and, groping about in his dazed state, he 
felt a moving mass of bandicoots all around him. Seizing two, he 
cooked them in the white-hot sand close to where the sun stood, the 
sun's fingers providing him with the needed fire. 

Evening approached. The sun, hiding his face with a veil of 
hair string and his body with hair-string pendants, vanished from 
sight, and Karora, with his thoughts turning toward a helpmate, 
fell asleep, stretching his arms out to both sides. 

And while he slept there emerged from underneath his armpit 
something in the shape of a bull- roarer. It assumed human form 
and grew in one night to the stature of a young man fully grown. 
Karora, feeling that his arm was being oppressed with the weight 


of something heavy, awoke; and he saw his first-born son lying at 
his side, his head resting on his father's shoulder. 

Dawn broke. Karora rose and sounded a loud, vibrating call. 
The son then stirred into life, got up, and danced a ceremonial 
dance around his father, who was now sitting adorned with full 
ceremonial designs worked in blood and feather- down. The son 
tottered and stumbled, being only half awake; but the father put 
his body and chest into a violent quiver, and the son placed his 
hands upon him. And when this had been done, the first ceremony 
came to an end. 77 

Numerous parallels to this primitive origin legend of the Bandi- 
coot Clan exist in the various high mythologies of the world, among 
the most striking the resemblance of the living pole growing from 
Karora's head to the Tree of J esse, in the symbolism of the Middle 
Ages (for example, as in the Tree- of-J esse window of Chartres 
Cathedral), whence the Second Adam, Jesus, was derived; or 
the cross itself on which J esus hung, placed on the hill of Golgotha, 
"Hill of the Skull," so called because it was there that the skull was 
buried of Adam, the androgynous dawn man of the Hebrew myth. 
Or again, we think of the curious, somnolent first man, Ymir, of 
the Icelandic Eddas, who took form in the "yawning void" of the 
beginning, when the ice- waves pressing down from the north met 
the heat-waves of the south. "Now it is said that when he slept, a 
sweat came upon him, and there grew under his left hand a man 
and a woman, and one of his feet begat a son with the other; and 
thus the races are come." 78 Ymir's great somnolent body then was 
cut up to form the world: 

Of Ymir's flesh the earth was fashioned. 

And of his sweat the sea; 

Crags of his bones, trees of his hair. 

And of his skull the sky. 78 

In many of the myths of India the cut-up man, the primordial, 
world- creating sacrifice of whom the visible world was fashioned, 
is called Purusha, which means simply, "Man." 80 In the ancient 
Babylonian epic of creation, the figure was a monstrous female, 
the goddess- mother of the world abyss, Tiamat. 81 In the Australian 


legend of Karora, this same universal archetype, or elementary 
idea, of the all- containing primal being has been adjusted to the 
conditions of the local scene and ceremonial style. There is no 
glacial cold, as in Iceland; no reference to the Brahmanic sacrifice, 
as in India; no mention of the female sex, as in all the others. The 
pattern is exclusively masculine— as in the case of the Hebrew 
Lord God's unassisted creation of the world and production with- 
out female intervention of Adam, his original son. The Australian 
rituals of the circumcision and subindsion, with their emphatically 
patriarchal bias, find their validation in a myth of this kind, where 
the whole life stage of the child with the mother is simply dis- 
regarded, and the son is bom as the full-grown son of the father 
in one night. 

The living, swaying pole, rising from Karora's head, which 
mounted upward as though to strike the vault of the heavens and 
was a living creature, covered with a smooth skin like the skin of 
a man, is represented in the rite by the ceremonial pole that the 
young initiate embraces immediately before submitting to the 
operation of the subincision. The pole of the rite, before being 
planted in the ground, is carried upright on a man's back, parallel- 
ing the line of his spine and continuing, like a flagpole, far above 
his head. Both the pole and the man are decorated with bird- down, 
stuck on with blood drawn from subindsion wounds, and this 
down, flying ofF as the man jumps about, is symbolic of the life- 
generative power that went out in all directions from the ancestors. 
The cosmic pole and the subindsed phallus are the same: they are 
the male- female, self-suffident, all- producing ancestor of the be- 
ginning. The temporal polarity of past and present, the sexual of 
male and female, the ritualistic of the ceremonial ground and place 
of the beginning are all, equally and simultaneously, dissolved. 
And the phallic operation, which, according to an authentic 
Freudian reading, enables the men to say to themselves, "We are 
not separated from the mother, for we two are one, " simultaneously 
and equally enables them to partidpate in their own way in a 
mythological image of the metaphysical mystery of the cosmos: 
the mystery of that cosmogonie sleight-of-hand by which the one 
became and continues to become the many, and by which the time- 



lessness of eternity is reflected in the changing scene of time. 

The enigma of this ultimate mystery, which Schopenhauer aptly 
termed the "World Knot," is no better explained in the formulas 
of philosophy or theology than in the image of the ancestor of the 
bandicoots; nor can we dismiss the Aranda myth as a mere 
curiosity of the primitive mind if we are going to ponder in a 
serious way the analogous imagery of the Book of Genesis, the 
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, or Plato's Symposium. The mystery 
of the universe and the wonder of the temple of the world are 
what speak to us through all myths and rites— as well as the great 
effort of man to bring his individual life into concord with the 
whole. And the imagery by which this mystery, wonder, and effort 
have been rendered in the recorded traditions of mankind is so 
marvelously constant— in spite of all the varieties of local life and 
culture— that we well may wonder whether it may not simply be 
coeval with the human mind. 

But in this section of the present chapter the chief concern is 
not the problem of the universals, to which the following section 
returns, but the local, geographically and historically conditioned, 
various manners of rendering and applying those general themes. 
And even the brief view already given of the spectrum of the myth 
of the primordial androgynous giant suffices to afford a pre- 
liminary notion of the ways in which one common image can be 
turned to differing ends. We observe, for example, that whereas in 
the Greek and Hebrew versions man is split in two by a god, in 
the Chinese, Hindu, and Australian it is the god itself who divides 
and multiplies. 

In the Hindu version, furthermore, the image of the androgynous 
ancestor is developed in terms of an essentially psychological 
reading of the problem of creation. The universal Self becomes 
divided immediately after conceiving and uttering the pronoun " I " 
(Sanskrit aham). This illustrates the fundamental Indian conviction 
that a sense of ego is the root of the world illusion. Ego generates 
fear and desire, and these are the passions that animate all life 
and even all being; for it is only after the concept "I" has been 
established that the fear of one's own destruction can develop or 
any desire for personal enjoyment. The aim of Indian yoga, there- 



fore, is to clear the mind of the concept "I" and therewith dis- 
solve both fear and desire. But this amounts to an undoing of 
creation— or, at least, of one's psychological participation in its 
effects. For it leads not only to the knowledge mat the seat of 
anxiety and sorrow is ego, but also to a level of immediate ex- 
perience, antecedent to all thought, where there is neither hope nor 
fear but only the rapture of a sheer— and mere— consciousness of 

In the Hebrew version, on the other hand, the image of the 
primal androgyne has been applied to a theological reading of the 
mystery of creation— culminating in a concept of the J ewish people 
as the agents of God's will, following the failure and disobedience 
of the divided androgyne in the Garden. To maintain the tension 
between God and man, the creator is in this mythology held aloof 
from his creation. It is not the god who falls into a state of exile 
from his own true nature, but rather his creature; and the exile is 
not an essentially psychological one, antecedent to and inherent in 
the concept of the manifold of the universe, but a concrete 
historical episode occurring in a world already created by a tran- 
scendent but not immanent Lord God and universal disciplinarian. 

Finally, in the Greek allegory of Plato, the same basic theme has 
been applied poetically, to give point to a genial, metaphorical 
interpretation of the mystery of human love, its trials, depth, and 
delight. And it is worth observing that though the gods are here 
represented as in a certain sense superior to the beings whom they 
divide, in a second, ironical sense it is the human beings who are in 
their love superior. The jealous gods divided them out of fear of 
their strength. 

If we now allow all three of these versions— the Hindu, the 
Hebrew, and the Greek— to supplement and play against one 
another in our minds, we shall certainly find it difficult to believe 
that they have not been derived from a single common tradition; 
and this probability becomes even more confounding and amazing 
when the primitive Australian example is considered in relation to 
the rest. The circumcised boy initiate, embracing the living tree that 
rises from the head of the first ancestor, before being lanced and 
therewith identified with the father! Who is he? In this science we 



must have the courage to compare, so let us not be afraid to draw 
the obvious parallel (though we may not yet be ready to under- 
stand why it should be possible) with J esus on the cross that rises 
on the hill of the skull of the first ancestor, whose side is to be 
opened by a lance in the awesome rite of his at-one-ment with the 

There can be little doubt that there is a common tradition back 
of all these myths. Is it, however, the one and only mythological 
tradition of our species, so that we may expect to find that its 
themes and motifs have been coextensive with human thought? 
If so, then perhaps we should accept without further ado Bastian's 
theory of the elementary and ethnic ideas* But if it should appear, 
on the other hand, that this mythological tradition, though broadly 
diffused and of prodigious import, is but one of many, or even one 
of two, completely disparate traditions, then we must inquire when 
and where it may have originated and what experiences or insights 
can have brought it forth; likewise, when and where the other 
traditions originated and from what different experiences or in- 
sights. Furthermore, with respect to this particular mythology, are 
we to think of it as having been diffused, at some remote but 
determinable period of the past, from the centers of a higher 
civilization to Australia, where, on flinty soil, a regressive meta- 
morphosis reduced the imagery to its present form; or did a reverse 
process take place, the material being sublimated from its primitive 
to the higher forms through centuries of progressive transforma- 
tion? Or does it represent, rather— as some of the leading 
theological students of the problem have suggested— the vestiges 
of a primitive Revelation vouchsafed to man at the commencement 
of his career on earth? 

An early theory of this kind was proposed in the first part of 
the nineteenth century by the Romantic philosopher Friedrich 
W.J . von Schelling (1775-1854), who claimed that man was 
created in the "Center of Godhead, " where he beheld all things as 
they are in God, which is to say, in terms of their essential order; 
and in this view there was no room or need for myth. But when 
man had moved from this center to the periphery, his unity in the 

* Cf. supra, p. 32. 



center being gone, his vision was no longer superior to things, for 
he had sunk to the level of being a mere thing himself; and it was 
on this level that the various polytheistic mythologies arose as 
uncentered man's dreams of his own lost state of being. Schelling 
believed, however, that man's original unity in God had been 
imperfect, since in this state he had not yet had the experience of 
testing his own freedom. Hence, the polytheistic mythologies 
represent a stage (or rather, series of stages) in a historical 
progress toward the manifestation of the Second Adam in the 
ultimate religion of Christ. In the heathen religions Christ is 
implicit; in the Old Testament, prophesied; and in the New 
Testament, revealed. Thus Christianity is innate in human life 
and as old as the world. 82 

Such an idea could have been developed from a reading of 
certain passages of the early Church Fathers; for example, Tertul- 
lian's statement (c. 160-230 A.D.) that "the soul is naturally 
Christian" (anima naturaliter Christiana). But Schelling might 
also have developed his thought independently; for the phenom- 
enology that gave rise to Bastian's theory of elementary ideas has 
been observed by many throughout the history of the intercourse of 
the races. Analogies— even minute analogies— exist far too numer- 
ously between the mythological traditions of the higher and lower 
cultures to be dismissed as the mere fall of chance; and those 
weaving a net of common strands between the Christian liturgy 
and such barbarous rites as those of our severely shaken Aranda 
lads are particularly strong. Let us return, therefore, to the 
mystery of their resurrection. 

When the boys have died their death to childhood and survived 
their painful metamorphosis into incarnations of the original 
androgynous being, they are told that they have no further opera- 
tions to fear. There is one more extremely interesting event in 
store, however, when, following a season of some four full months 
of continuous dancing and viewing of the world- establishing 
mythological age of the cosmic "dream time," they will be shown 
—in a very mysterious way— a particularly important double 


ljurunga, after which they will be roasted on a hot, though 
smothered, fire, and finally sent back to the women's camp to be 
received by their waiting brides as fully tested and warranted 
Aranda males. 

The great festival of initiatory rites at the conclusion of which 
the double ljurunga is exposed is known as the Engwura ceremony, 
and the detailed account of its pantomimes in the work of Spencer 
and Gillen occupies more than a hundred pages. The ceremonies 
are conducted by a number of tribal groups, which have come 
together with some eighteen or twenty young men to be initiated, 
and the festal spirit, growing greater and greater from week to week, 
keeps the whole company, by some miracle of the gods, from 
collapsing in sheer fatigue. The daytime temperature at times 
reaches a broiling hundred and fifty- six degrees Fahrenheit; 83 
nevertheless, the rites go on unabated, and if anyone dies of sun- 
stroke the blame is placed on the black magic of some alien tribe. 

A supernatural being called Numbakulla, "Eternal," is supposed 
to have fashioned the original ljurungas, and then, by splitting 
these, to have made pairs. The pairs were then tied together, one 
having a man's spirit and one a woman's, the two being mates. And 
the name of these double ljurungas is ambilyerikirra. 84 

"The ceremonies," write Spencer and Gillen, "now became very 
interesting. . . . The leader of the Engwura remained in camp 
preparing, with the aid of the men of his locality, a special sacred 
object which consisted of two large wooden tjurunga, each three 
feet in length. They were bound together with human hair string 
so as to be completely concealed from view, and then the upper 
three quarters were surrounded with rings of white down, put on 
with great care, and so closely side by side, that when complete 
the appearance of rings was quite lost. The top was ornamented 
with a tuft of owl feathers. When it was made it was carefully 
hidden in the dry bed of a creek. " 85 

The men's camp had been divided from the women's through- 
out the four months of the ceremony by this dry bed of a stream in 
which the tjurunga now lay buried. There it remained until the 
candidates for initiation, who had been away from the camp all 



day on a number of assigned adventures, returned and were made 
to lie in a row on their backs, while an old man, delegated to 
watch them, walked back and forth along the line. Perfect silence 
now fell over the camp. Night had descended; the young men were 
lying still; their guard was slowly pacing; it was perfectly dark; and 
the leader of the festival, who had spent the day fashioning the 
double tjurunga, was now squatting with the sacred object in his 
two hands, having dug it up from its place of hiding in the stream 
bed. He was holding it upright before his face by the undecorated 
end, holding it like a bat; and kneeling beside him, at either elbow, 
was an assistant. These two were supporting his arms, and the man 
was lifting and lowering the sacred object slowly before his face. 

When the boys, returning to camp, had been made to lie down, 
the solemn trio had been screened from view by a phalanx of old 
men. Throughout the night, therefore, lying on their backs in the 
silence, the boys were unaware of what was taking place. The old 
man with his two assistants, however, was continually lifting and 
lowering the sacred symbol, as Spencer and Gillen declare, "with- 
out any cessation, save for a few seconds at a time, during the 
whole night ." 86 

At a certain moment of the night the older men began chanting, 
but the boys remained as they were. The guardian still paced before 
them. And it was not until dawn, when the boys were roused, that 
the old leader and the two men supporting him ceased from lifting 
and lowering the ambilyerikirra. "There was little wonder," wrote 
Spencer and Gillen, "that they looked tired and haggard, but even 
yet their work was not quite done. " 

Getting up, they moved to the north end of the ceremonial 
area, the two sides- men still retaining hold of the leader's arms. 
The young candidates proceeded to a line of sacred bushes, 
and having taken boughs, arranged themselves so as to form 
a solid square behind the leaders. Most of the older men re- 
mained on the Engwura ground, from which one of them, 
the watcher over the candidates, shouted instructions across 
to the women. The main party, headed by the three men 
bearing the ambilyerikirra, and accompanied by a few of the 
older men, moved in the form of a solid square out from 
the Engwura ground, over the river and up the opposite bank 


to where the women stood grouped together. . . . Each 
woman, with her arms bent at the elbow, moved her open 
hand, with the palm uppermost, up and down on the wrist 
as if inviting the men to come on, while she called out "Kutta, 
Kutta, Kutta," keeping all the while one leg stiff, while she 
bent the other and gently swayed her body. . . . The party 
approached slowly and in perfect silence, and when within 
five yards of the front rank of the women, the men who carried 
the ambilyerikirra threw themselves headlong on the ground, 
hiding the sacred object from view. No sooner had they done 
this than the young initiates threw themselves on the top, so 
that only the heads of the three men could be seen projecting 
from the pile of bodies. Then, after remaining thus for two 
minutes, the young men got up and formed into a square facing 
away from the women, after which the three leaders rapidly 
jumped up, turned their backs on the women, and were hustled 
through the square which they then led back to the Engwura 
ground, and with this the ambilyerikirra ceremony came to an 
end. 87 

Thus were the boys, led by their trinity of mystagogues, intro- 
duced as marriageable men to the land of fair women, where the 
naked sirens who formerly had driven them away were now 
quaintly beckoning, cooing "Kutta, Kutta, Kutta"; and we may 
compare their role to that of Solveig in the poet Ibsen's Peer Gynt, 
who softly sang her cradle song to the spiritual adventurer when 
he returned to her, following his long man's- madness : 

I will cradle thee, I will watch thee; 

Sleep and dream thou, dear my boy! 88 

I think we shall not be going too far if we also compare the 
long night of silence, when a deep sleep was allowed to fall upon 
the young men and the wonderful double ljurunga was lifted and 
lowered, lifted and lowered from nightfall until dawn, with the 
deep sleep that fell upon Adam when Eve was taken from his side. 
For after their rite of subindsion, the youths, as we have seen, 
were comparable to Adam as the primordial male- female, fashioned 
in the image of a god; but, following that night, they were to be 
shown the Woman. Traversing the river, they passed from the 
men's danting ground, the magical land of myth, where the eyes 



see beings that are eternal and the dream can be lived of "we two 
are one," to the shore of time, death, and procreation, where the 
two that are mystically one are to be recognized as practically two: 
the land, resented by all good Platonists, to which woman leads, 
as from the Garden Eve. And the way of the young initiate now 
should be to recognize the wisdom of "Kutta, Kutta, Kutta" as 
well as that of the bull-roarers' thrilling hum, and to let even the 
subincised penis be a bridge to the toils of life in the world as well 
as to the garden of the gods. 

These rites, then, on the one hand, are certainly particular to 
Australia, inasmuch as their references to the local animal an- 
cestors— the bandicoot, kangaroo, etc.— are not precisely du- 
plicated anywhere else in the world. Nor shall we find elsewhere 
anything precisely duplicating the sacred tjurungas, to which all 
Australian mythological themes are systematically referred. In 
different religions different objects serve as sacra. Yet the idea of 
regarding as of divine origin a certain specific type of stick or 
stone, holy wafer, piece of bone, sacred utterance, or what not, 
is one of those universal traits of the religious life that Bastian 
termed elementary. Likewise, the motif of the male-female original 
being, which, as we have seen, has been developed in these 
Australian rites in considerable detail, from the moment of its 
first sounding in the ceremony of the two mothers and the two 
fire- sticks, through the ordeals and related myths of the subincision, 
to the final night ritual of the supremely sacred double tjurunga 
and the return of the initiates to the women's camp: the richly 
suggestive symbolism of this powerful motif is certainly duplicated 
in essence, and often even in detail, in many other traditions of 
the world. Furthermore, if we consider the underlying hermetic 
principle of the ritual series we are again on common ground; for 
in any rite, or system of rites, of initiation the same three stages 
are to be distinguished as in the rituals of Australia, namely: 
separation from the community, transformation (usually physical 
as well as psychological), and return to the community in the new 
role. The ritual of tossing in the air represented the crisis of 
separation. The rites of circumcision and subincision effected, ir- 


reversibly, the transformation. And the ritual of the double 
tjurunga marked the return. 

In sum, then, it may be said that in the education of the young 
it has been the general custom in traditionally based societies to 
reorganize the common human inheritance of infantile imprints in 
such a way as to conduct the energies of the psyche from the 
primary system of references of infantile dependency into the 
sphere of the chief concerns of the local groups, but that in this 
developed reorganization of the primary symbols certain motifs 
appear that cannot be convincingly described as infantile and yet 
are not exclusively local either. Throughout the world the rituals 
of transformation from infancy to manhood are attended with, 
and effected by, excruciating ordeals. Scourgings, fastings, the 
knocking out of teeth, scarifications, finger sacrifices, the removal 
of a testide, dcatrization, drcumdsion, subindsion, bitings, and 
burnings are the general rule. These, indeed, make brutally actual 
a general infantile fantasy of Oedipal aggression; but there is an 
additional asped of the situation to be considered, inasmuch as the 
natural body is transformed by the ordeals into an ever-present 
sign of a new spiritual state. For even in the gender, higher 
sodeties, where the body is no longer naked and mutilated, new 
dothes and ornaments are assumed, following initiations, to 
symbolize and support the new spiritual state. In India the caste 
marks, tonsure, dothes, etc., represent predsely the individual's 
sodal role. In the West we know the military uniform, derical 
collar, medical goatee, and judge's wig. But where people are 
naked, it is the body itself that must be changed. A Marquesan 
physique fully tattooed was hardly a natural body any more; it 
was a mythological epiphany, and the consdousness inhabiting it 
could hardly have wished to behave otherwise than in a manner 
comporting with the physical form. 

One is linked to one's adult role, that is to say, by bang identified 
with a myth— participating actually, physically, oneself, in a 
manifestation of mythological forms, these bang visibly supplied 
by the roles and patterns of the rite, and the rite, in extension, 
supporting the form of the sodely. So that, in sum, we may say 
that whereas the energies of the psyche in their primary context 


of infantile concerns are directed to the crude ends of individual 
pleasure and power, in the rituals of initiation they are reorganized 
and implicated in a system of social duty, with such effect that the 
individual thenceforth can be safely trusted as an organ of the 

Pleasure, power, and duty: these are the systems of reference of 
all experience on the natural level of the primitive societies. And 
when such societies are in form, the first two are subordinated to 
the last, which, in turn, is mythologically supported and ritually 
enforced. Ritual is mythology made alive, and its effect is to 
convert men into angels. For archaic man was not a man at all, 
in the modem, individualistic sense of the term, but the incarnation 
of a socially determined archetype. And it was precisely in the 
rites of initiation that his apotheosis was effected— with what cruel 
imprint of hermetic art we have now seen. 

VI. The Impact of Old Age 

Death is foreshadowed by the first signals of old age, which 
appear even today too soon for pleasure. How much sooner in the 
primitive past! When the woman of forty- five was a hag and the 
warrior of fifty an arthritic cripple, when, moreover, disease and 
the accidents of the hunt and of battle were everyone's immediate 
experience. Death was a mighty presence who had to be faced 
boldly even within the safest sanctuary, and whose force had to 
be assimilated. 

An East African vision of this great lord of the World emerges 
from a folktale of the Basumbwa tribe of the Victoria Nyanza 
district. The tale is of a young man whose dead father appeared 
to him, driving the cattle of Death, and conducted him along a 
path going into the ground, as into a burrow. They came to an 
area with many people, where the father hid his son and left him. 
In the morning the Great Chief Death appeared. One side of 
him was beautiful, but the other rotten, with maggots dropping 
to the ground. Attendants were gathering up the maggots. They 
washed the sores and, when they had finished. Death said, "The 
one bom today will be robbed if he goes trading. The woman who 



conceives today will die with the child. The man who works in his 
garden will lose the crop. The one who goes into the jungle today 
will be eaten by the lion." But the next morning Death again ap- 
peared, and his attendants washed and perfumed the beautiful side, 
massaging it with oil, and, when they had finished. Death pro- 
nounced a blessing. "The one bom today: may he become rich! 
May the woman who conceives today give birth to a child who will 
live to be old! Let the one bom today go into the market: may he 
strike good bargains; may he trade with the blind! May the man 
who goes into the jungle slaughter game; may he discover even 
elephants! For today I pronounce the benediction." 

"If you had arrived today," said the father to his son, "many 
things would have come into your possession, but now poverty 
has been ordained for you; so much is clear. Tomorrow you had 
better go." And the son departed, returning to his home . 89 

Very far from Africa, in the mid- Pacific islands of Hawaii, the 
land of the dead was also thought to be entered through clefts in 
the earth. These were called "casting-off places ," 90 and there was 
one for every inhabited district. The soul, arriving, found there 
a tree with a gathering of little children around it, who gave 
directions. One side of the tree looked fresh and green, but the 
other dry and brittle, and, according to one version of the ad- 
venture, the soul had to climb to the top by the brittle side and 
descend by the same to a level where the children would direct it; 
if a green branch were taken, it would break and the soul fall to 
annihilation . 91 According to a second version, however, it was a 
branch of the green side that should be grasped, which then would 
break and hurl the soul quickly into "the labyrinth that leads to 
the underworld ." 92 

It is a telling image, this of the tree with the deceptive branches, 
standing at the entrance to a realm where what would seem to be 
dead must be known to be living and what to be alive, dead. It is 
an image of the hope that has everywhere enabled the old to enter 
willingly the dark gate. And yet, not all can pass; only those who 
understand the secret of death— which is that death is the other 
side of what we know as life, and that, just as we must leave child- 


hood when entering upon the duties of maturity, so life when 
going on to death. 

The Hawaiians had several images of the afterlife. Many souls 
had no abiding place, but only wandered over the waste lands of 
the world and occasionally entered some living person. Others 
went into the bodies of sharks, eels, lizards, or owls, and might 
then become guardians or helpers of the living. But for those who 
were perfectly successful in the transit of the deceptive tree, there 
were abiding places according to rank (for the Hawaiians were 
meticulous about rank). And in these privileged realms sports 
were played, dangerous sports, as they had been in life, and there 
was food in abundance requiring no cultivation— fish and taro, 
yams, coconuts and bananas. The highest of these afterworlds was 
in a flaming crater at the top of the mountain of the volcano- 
goddess Pele, where there was no pain, only sheer delight. 93 

The atmosphere of this Polynesian warrior-paradise corresponds 
to that of the warrior-hall of the Germanic god of warriors, Wotan 
(Odin, Othin), to which the Valkyrs bore the heroic slain. "And 
what is the sport of the champions, when they are not fighting?" 
we read in the twelfth- century Prose Edda of the Icelandic warrior- 
poet, Snorri Sturluson. "Every day, as soon as they are clothed, 
they put on their armor and go out into the court and fight and 
fell each other. That is their sport; and when the time draws near 
for their midday meal, they all ride home to Valhall and sit down 
to drink." 94 The Valkyrs, Odin's daughters, there attend to the 
flagons and table service, 95 gold illumines the hall, and swords are 
used instead of fire. 96 

The Hawaiian tree with the deceptive branches, of which one 
side seems to be alive but the other dead, suggests the Eddie 
World Ash, Yggdrasil, whose shaft was the pivot of the revolving 
heavens, with the World Eagle perched on its summit, four stags 
running among its branches, browsing on its leaves, and the 
Cosmic Serpent gnawing at its root: 

The ash Yggdrasil suffers anguish. 

More than men can know: 

The stag bites above; on the side it rots; 

And the dragon gnaws from beneath. 97 



It is the greatest of all trees and the best, the ash where the gods 
give judgment every day. Its limbs spread over the world and 
stand above heaven. Its roots penetrate the abyss. And its name, 
Yggdrasil, means "The horse of Ygg," whose other name is Odin; 
for this great god once hung on that tree nine days, in the way of a 
sacrifice to himself. 

I ween that I hung on the windy tree. 

Hung there for nights full nine; 

With the spear I was wounded, and offered I was 
To Odin, myself to myself. 

On that tree that none may ever know 
What root beneath it runs . 98 

We have here certainly hit upon a series of images aptly 
contrived to render certain hopes, fears, and realizations concerning 
the mystery of death, such as might well have arisen spontaneously 
in many parts of the world in the minds of those facing the dark 
gate. Or, since these images of the tree or man that is at once dead 
and alive do not appear in isolation, but always amid comparable 
contexts of associated motifs, should we not look for signs of a 
prehistoric distribution of the syndrome from a single myth- 
making center to the rest of the world? In the puberty rites we 
found the imagery of the androgyne associated with a tree or 
great pole. Here we again have the tree, and again a dual associa- 
tion: not the duality of male and female, but that of life and 
death. Are these two dualities mythologically related? To realize 
that they may indeed be linked, one need only think of the Bible 
story of the First Adam, who became Adam and Eve and fell by 
the tree, bringing into the world both death and its counterbalance, 
procreation. Add to this, then, the figure of the Second Adam, 
Christ, by whose death on the "tree" eternal life was given to man, 
and a key to the structuring of the many- faceted image will have 
been found. It is a threshold image, uniting pairs- of- opposites in 
such a way as to facilitate a passage of the mind beyond anxiety. 
But then, may it not have emerged independently in many parts of 
the world as a naturally given poetic inspiration? The associated 
notion of the underworld as a realm of the dead, entered by a 
cleft or burrow in the earth, would seem to be natural enough 



also; likewise, the related themes of the labyrinth and abyss of 
water. We have already recognized these as possible imprints from 
the period of the infant's view and experience of the world* And 
so, once again, we are brought to the delicate psychological prob- 
lem of the force of the imprints of infancy, and Bastian's theory 
of the elementary ideas. 

Can it be, that, as old age approaches and the body begins to 
fail in the manly tasks to which it was long ago assigned in the 
rites of initiation, the energies of the psyche drop back, regress, or 
revert to the earlier system of childhood and so reactivate the old 
context of the dear but frightening mother womb and the terrible 
father? Are we to say that the old expression, "second childhood," 
is thus of unexpected depth? Or is it rather that, as age approaches, 
the mind begins everywhere to withdraw from the local system of 
interests (having by now, so to say, used them up), moving on, 
in natural anticipation (since man is the one animal that knows of 
death's approach), to an anxious brooding on the mystery of the 
next threshold— which, indeed, can hardly be said to be a function 
of the local scene, but is the same for all mankind? And can it be 
said that then, as in the case of the imagery of infancy, an ex- 
perience of such force and consistency smites the mind that we 
may speak confidently of an imprint universally struck upon some 
psychological mechanism open to receive it? Either case may be 
possible— or both. And either way, the shift is from a local to a 
generally human system of references. The concerns of house, 
village, and field boundary fade, and the lineaments of a dark 
mystery appear gradually from the night that is both without and 
within. The mind is summoned to a new task; one, however, which, 
like suffering and rapture, is a grave and constant factor in the 
experience of the human race. And the force of this factor in the 
shaping of myths, even among the remotest peoples, surely is to 
be held in the reckoning of our science. 

For in all societies, whether primitive or advanced, the main- 
tenance of the religious forms is in charge, largely, of the old, the 
younger adults being busy with the physical maintenance not only 
of themselves and their children, but also of their parents and 

* Supra, pp. 61-71. 


grandparents. Furthermore, the old in many sodeties spend a 
considerable part of their time playing with and taking care of the 
youngsters, while the parents delve and spin; so that the old are 
returned to the sphere of eternal things not only within but without. 
And we may take it also, I should think, that the considerable 
mutual attraction of the very young and the very old may derive 
something from their common, secret knowledge that it is they, 
and not the busy generation between, who are concerned with a 
poetic play that is eternal and truly wise. Have we not already 
heard the words of the old, life- pummel ed shaman Najagneq 
concerning the wisdom of Sila, the upholder of the universe, who 
is "so mighty that his speech to man comes not through ordinary 
words, but through storms, snowfall, rain showers, the tempests of 
the sea, through all the forces that man fears, or through sunshine, 
calm seas, or small, innocent, playing children who understand 

It is not in the writings of Sigmund Freud but in those of Carl 
J ung that the most profound analytical consideration has recently 
been given to the problem confronting all men throughout the long 
last portion of the human cycle of life: that, namely, of the ir- 
resistible approach of King Death. "A human being," Jung once 

would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if 
this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he be- 
longs. The afternoon of human life must have a significance 
of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life's 
morning. The significance of the morning undoubtedly lies in 
the development of the individual, our entrenchment in the 
outer world, the propagation of our kind and the care of our 
children. But when this purpose has been attained— and even 
more than attained— shall the earning of money, the extension 
of conquests, and the expansion of life go steadily on beyond 
the bounds of all reason and sense? Whoever carries over into 
the afternoon the law of the morning— that is, the aims of 
nature— must pay for so doing with damage to his soul just 
as surely as a growing youth who tries to salvage his childish 
egoism must pay for this mistake with social failure. Money- 
making, social existence, family and posterity are nothing but 
plain nature— not culture. Culture lies beyond the purpose of 



nature. Could by any chance culture be the meaning and pur- 
pose of the second half of life? 

In primitive tribes, we observe that the old people are al- 
most always the guardians of the mysteries and the laws, and 
it is in these that the cultural heritage of the tribe is ex- 

"As a physician I am convinced that it is hygienic," Jung de- 
clares elsewhere, with an apology for employing such a clinical 
term with reference to religion, "to discover in death a goal toward 
which one can strive; and that shrinking away from it is something 
unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its 
purpose. I therefore consider the religious teaching of a life here- 
after consonant with the standpoint of psychic hygiene. When I 
live in a house that I know will fall about my head within the 
next two weeks, all my vital functions will be impaired by this 
thought; but if, on the contrary, I feel myself to be safe, I can 
dwell there in a normal and comfortable way. From the stand- 
point of psychotherapy it would therefore be desirable to think of 
death as only a transition— one part of a life-process whose 
extent and duration escape our knowledge." And in fact, as Dr. 
Jung then notes and all of us well know, "a large majority of 
people have from time immemorial felt the need of believing in a 
continuance of life. In spite of the fact that by far the larger part 
of mankind does not know why the body needs salt, everyone 
demands it none the less because of an instinctive compulsion. It 
is the same in things of the psyche. The demands of therapy, 
therefore, do not lead us into any bypaths, but down the middle of 
the roadway trodden by humankind. And therefore we are thinking 
correctly with respect to the meaning of life, even though we do 
not understand what we think." 100 

Observations such as these have earned for Dr. J ung the reputa- 
tion of being a mystic— though actually they are no more mystical 
than the recommendation of a hobby to a mind becoming ossified 
in its office task would be. J ung has here simply said that in the 
afternoon of life the symbolism of King Death does in fact conduce 
to a progressive inclination of the energies of the psyche, and hence 
to maturity. Nor does he think it necessary, or even possible, to 


"understand" the ultimate secret of the force of such symbolic 
forms. For, as he asks. 

Do we ever understand what we think? We understand only 
such thinking as is a mere equation and from which nothing 
comes out but what we have put in. That is the manner of 
working of the intellect. But beyond that there is a thinking 
in primordial images— in symbols that are older than historical 
man; which have been ingrained in him from earliest times, 
and, eternally living, outlasting all generations, still make up 
the groundwork of the human psyche. It is possible to live the 
fullest life only when we are in harmony with these symbols; 
wisdom is a return to them. It is a question neither of belief 
nor knowledge, but of the agreement of our thinking with 
the primordial images of the unconscious. They are the source 
of all our conscious thoughts, and one of these primordial 
images is the idea of life after death. 101 

We may let this statement stand as the most radical to be 
presented for the point of view of the elementary ideas; the new, 
important themes here added to the general theory being that of 
the progressive life- furthering influenoe of these ideas, and that 
of the new value they acquire in the second half of life, when, as 
Dr. Jung has so frequently stated, "man's values and even his 
body tend to undergo a reversal into opposite." 102 Old men be- 
come womanish, old women mannish, the fear of life becomes a 
fear of death. And so now it is the dry branches, not the green, of 
the universal tree around which the heavens spin that must be 
grasped and painfully climbed. 

However, there is an important difficulty to be noted before we 
commit ourselves to any general psychological interpretation of 
the mythological symbolism of King Death; for, as any seasoned 
anthropologist can readily show, neither the imprints of experience 
nor the images associated with the mystery of death are universal. 

Leo Frobenius was the first, I believe, to point out that two 
contrasting attitudes toward death appear among the primitive 
peoples of the world. 103 Among the hunting tribes, whose life style 
is based on the art of killing, who live in a world of animals that 
kill and are killed and hardly know the organic experience of a 



natural death, all death is a consequence of violence and is 
generally ascribed not to the natural destiny of temporal beings 
but to magic. Magic is employed both to defend against it and to 
deliver it to others, and the dead themselves are regarded as 
dangerous spirits, resenting their dispatch to the other world and 
now seeking revenge for their miserable state on those still alive. 
Indeed, as Frobenius formulates the attitude: "The power exer- 
cised by the living individual for good, the dead exercises for evil; 
so that the better he was, the worse will he become; and the 
mightier he was in life, the greater must be the restraining weight 
of bonds and stones upon his corpse. In short: the better and 
stronger the living, the more dangerous his ghost ." 104 Frobenius 
gives a considerable series of examples from Africa and antiquity 
of corpses bound in ropes, bandages, or nets to keep their ghosts 
from roaming, with the orifices of their bodies stopped to keep the 
ghosts inside, buried under heaps of stones to keep them down, or 
simply tossed to the wolves and hyenas, with the hope that they will 
be consumed that very night. 

Among the Australian Aranda, according to the detailed ac- 
count of Spencer and Gillen , 105 the village where a death has 
occurred is burned to the ground, the person's name is never 
mentioned, a number of painful and awkward ordeals are imposed 
on the widow and nearest relatives to ensure that the dead man 
shall regard himself as properly mourned, and finally, a dance and 
wild commotion of shouting, ground- beating, and mutual mayhem 
is enacted by the relatives on the grave itself, so that the deceased 
may know that he must not come back in such a way as to frighten 
people any more— though he may still watch over his friends if 
he likes, visit them gently in dreams, and guard them from evil. We 
may say that m a cultural atmosphere of this sort death is in- 
terpreted as terminal, as far as the relationship of the deceased to 
his society is concerned, and its mystery is in a sense denied and 
defied, feared yet challenged, never having been assimilated either 
psychologically or philosophically. Old age then leads to an attitude 
of resistance and to a pattern of thought and feeling that may be 
called that of the plucky old warrior, fighting to the end. 

For the planting folk of the fertile steppes and tropical jungles. 



on the other hand, death is a natural phase of life, comparable to 
the moment of the planting of the seed, for rebirth. As an example 
of the attitude, we may take the composite picture presented by 
Frobenius of the sort of burial and reliquary rites that he observed 
everywhere among the horticulturalists of South and East Africa. 

When an old kinsman of the sib dies, a cry of joy immedi- 
ately fills the air. A banquet is arranged, during which the men 
and women discuss the qualities of the deceased, tell stories of 
his life, and speak with sorrow of the ills of old age to which 
he was subject in his last years. Somewhere in the neighbor- 
hood— preferably in a shady grove— a hollow has been dug 
in the earth, covered with a stone. It now is opened and there 
within lie the bones of earlier times. These are pushed aside to 
make room for the new arrival. The corpse is carefully bedded 
in a particular posture, facing a certain way, and left to itself 
then for a certain season, with the grave again closed. But 
when time enough has passed for the flesh to have decayed, 
the old men of the sib open the chamber again, climb down, 
take up the skull, and carry it to the surface and into the farm- 
stead, where it is cleaned, painted red and, after being hos- 
pitably served with grain and beer, placed in a special place 
along with the crania of other relatives. From now on no 
spring will pass when the dead will not participate in the offer- 
ings of the planting time; no fall when he will not partake of 
the offering of thanks brought in at harvest: and in fact, 
always before the planting commences and before the wealth 
of the harvest is enjoyed by the living. Moreover, the silent old 
fellow participates in everything that happens in the farmstead. 

If a leopard fells a woman, a farmboy is bitten by a snake, a 
plague strikes, or the blessing of rain is withheld, the relic is al- 
ways brought into connection with the matter in some way. 
Should there be a fire, it is the first thing saved; when the 
puberty rites of the youngsters are to commence, it is the first 
to enjoy the festival beer and porridge. If a young woman 
marries into the sib, the oldest member conducts her to the 
urn or shelf where the earthly remains of the past are pre- 
served and bids her take from the head of an ancestor a few 
kernels of holy grain to eat. And this, indeed, is a highly 
significant custom; for when this young, new vessel of the 
spirit of the sib becomes pregnant, the old people of the com- 
munity watch to see what similarities will exist between the 
newly growing and the faded life. . . , 106 



Frobenius terns the attitude of the first order "magical/ 1 and the 
latter "mystical/ 1 observing that whereas the plane of reference of 
the first is physical, the ghost being conceived as physical, the 
second renders a profound seise of a communion of death and 
life in the entity of the sib. And anyone trying to express in words 
the sense or feeling of this mystic communion would soon leam 
that words are not enough : the best is silence, or the silent rite. 

Not all the rites conceived in this spirit of the mystic community 
are as gentle, however, as those just described. Many are appalling, 
as will soon be shown. But through all there is rendered, whether 
gently or brutally, an awesome sense of this dual image, variously 
turned, of death in life and life in death: as in the form of the 
Basumbwa Chief Death, one of whose sides was beautiful, but 
the other rotten, with maggots dropping to the ground; or in the 
Hawaiian tree with the deceptive branches at the casting-off place 
to the other world, one side of which looked fresh and green but 
the other dry and brittle. 

When the rites and mythologies even of the most primitive 
planting villages are compared with those of any tribe of hunters, 
it is readily seen that they represent a significant deepening both of 
religious feeling and of the commitment of the individual to com- 
munal life; the hunters, comparatively, are mgged individualists. 
For it is in the rituals and mysteries of the group that the planters 
not only achieve their sense of the entity of the sib, but also leam 
the way by which the dangers of the journey to the happy land of 
the dead are to be overcome and the company joined of the 
ancestors, who from there work as a continuing presence in the 
living memory of the rite. The living and the dead are thus, so to 
say, the matched hemispheres, light and dark, of a single sphere, 
which is being itself; and the mystery or wonder of this being is 
the final reference of such symbols as those just sear in the Great 
Chief and the paradoxical tree. 

Moreover, where death and life are joined in a single living 
round, as in the imagery of the plant and its seed, the passage of the 
individual from the state of childhood, through maturity, to the 
period of old age is marked by his graduation through clearly 
recognized age grades, to each of which particular social duties 


and functions are assigned. Among the natives of Malekula, for 
example, where, as already noted, the soul at the entrance to the 
underworld is challenged by a spirit to complete the design of a 
labyrinth which the individual during his life was taught in the 
rites of his society, five age grades are recognized for the male. 
These are: (1) the male child, (2) the young man, (3) the 
middle-aged man, (4) the old man (gray- headed), and (5) the 
very old man (white-headed). These grades, furthermore, continue 
after death, the ghost remaining in the age grade attained during 
life. And only the old or the very old man is able to proceed to 
the end of the journey, the ultimate land of the dead, which, like 
the paradise of the Hawaiian chiefs, is on the summit of a great 
volcano. There the dead dance every night among the flames,- 107 
whereas men of the younger age grades, not having completed the 
course of their initiation into the mystery of death through life, 
remain in the entrance cave, in which, as we have seen, there 
is a tree that has to be climbed, much as in the casting- off places 
of Hawaii. 

Two contrasting images of death, then, have fashioned two 
contrasting worlds of myth: one deriving from the impact, imprint, 
or upadhi of life and death in the animal sphere; the other from 
the model of the cycle of death and rebirth in the plant. 

In the first domain the paramount object of experience is the 
beast. Killed and slaughtered, it yields to man its flesh to become 
his substance, teeth to become his ornaments, hides for clothing 
and tents, sinews for ropes, bones for tools. The animal life is 
translated into human life entirely, through the medium of death, 
slaughter, and the arts of cooking, tanning, sewing. So that, if it be 
true, as Geza Roheim has suggested, that "whatever is killed be- 
comes father," it should be no cause for wonder that the animals 
in the mythologies of the Great Hunt are revered as spiritual 
fathers. The enigma of the totem (the curious dual image, at once 
animal and human, from which both the dan and the animal speries 
of like name are supposed to be derived and which is the key 
figure in the social thinking of many hunting tribes) is by this 
formula perfectly interpreted. For, just as a father is the model 
for his son, so is the animal for the hunter. And in the way. 



perhaps, of a wonderful game (Huizinga), or perhaps rather of a 
seizure (Frobenius),* the whole world of man becomes linked to 
the world of the animal to an extent that for people whose world- 
picture, like our own, cleaves to the model of the plant is very 
difficult to conceive. The history, distribution, and chief structures 
of the mythologies of this type— the mythologies of the primitive 
hunters— are discussed in Part Three. 

In Part Two, the question, already posed, of the relationship 
of the high mythologies of the Near East, Europe, and Greater 
Asia to the primitive imagery of Chief Death and the Cosmic 
Tree is pursued. This more mystical mythology, in which man finds 
life and death to be alternating phases in the temporal manifesta- 
tion "of something far more deeply interfused," is closer than the 
other to our own; yet the two may be of equal age. Or, at least, 
as far into the well of the past as the flicker of our little candle of 
science can reach, signs of the two are to be seen. 

And so what shall be said now of Bastian's psychological theory 
of the elementary and ethnic ideas? Can it be argued that two such 
contradictory mythologies could have stemmed from a single 
psychological inheritance? 

Indeed it can. For, just as in the earliest stages of every human 
biography the images of mother and father involve contradictory 
traits— threatening and protecting, malignant and benign— so also, 
in the latter years, the image of death. And just as in one biography 
it is the negative aspect of a parental image, but in another case 
the positive, that determines the ultimate structuring of the psyche 
and its dreams, according to local circumstance, so here, in the 
larger sphere of the adult's attitude toward death, the negative or 
positive attitude may be taken according to the lessons either of 
the fierce animals as mystagogue, or of the gentler plant. The 
elementary idea (Elementargedanke) is never itself directly figured 
in mythology, but always rendered by way of local ethnic ideas or 
forms (Volkergedanke), and these, as we now perceive, are 
locally conditioned and may reflect attitudes either of resistance 
or of assimilation. 

* Cf. supra, pp. 22-23. 



The imagery of myth, therefore, can never be a direct presenta- 
tion of the total secret of the human species, but only the function 
of an attitude, the reflex of a stance, a life pose, a way of playing 
the game. And where the rules or forms of such play are 
abandoned, mythology dissolves— and, with mythology, life. 

Part Two 






One of the most interesting of 
the many recent developments in the field of archaeological re- 
search has been the steady progress of the excavations in the Near 
East, which now are bringing into focus the centers of origin and 
path of diffusion of the earliest neolithic culture forms. To intro- 
duce the main results of the work pertinent to our present theme, 
it may be noted, first, that the arts of grain agriculture and stock- 
breeding, which are the basic forms of economy supporting the 
high civilizations of the world, now seem to have made their first 
appearance in the Near East somewhere between 7500 and 4500 
B.c., and to have spread eastward and westward from this center 
in a broad band, displacing the earlier, much more precariously 
supported hunting and food- collecting cultures, until both the 
Pacific coast of Asia and the Atlantic coasts of Europe and Africa 
were attained by about 2500 B.C. Meanwhile, in the nuclear zone 
from which this diffusion originated, a further development took 
place, circa 3500 to 2500 B.c., which yielded all the basic elements 
of the archaic high civilizations— writing, the wheel, mathematics, 
the calendar, kingship, priestcraft, the symbolism of the temple, 
taxation, etc.— and the mythological themes specific to this second 
development were then diffused comparatively rapidly, together 
with the technological effects, along the ways already blazed, 
until once again the coasts of the Pacific and Atlantic were attained. 




I. The Proto- Neolithic: c. 7500-5500 B.C. 

The first phase of this crucial transformation of society appears 
to be represented by a series of discoveries made in the middle 
nineteen- twenties by Dorothy Garrod at the so-called Mount 
Carmel caves in Palestine. 1 Artifacts similar to those she found 
have since been discovered as far south as Helwan, Egypt, as far 
north as Beirut and Yabrud, and as far west as the Kurdish hills of 
Iraq. The industry is known to archaeology as the Natufian, and 
may have flourished anywhere from the eighth to fifth millenniums 
B.c.; the dating is still extremely obscure* We may term its 
vaguely defined era the Proto- Neolithic and its stage of development 
"terminal food- gathering." The materials suggest a congeries of 
nomadic, or semi- nomadic, hunting tribes with a rich variety of 
flint and bone implements of a late paleo-microlithic type, not yet 
dwelling in villages yet supplementing their food supply with 
some variety of grainlike grass; for sickle blades made of stone 
have been found among the remains, and these suggest a harvest. 
Numerous bones of the pig, goat, sheep, ox, and of an equid of 
some sort let us know, furthermore, that if the Natufians were not 
yet domesticating, they were nevertheless slaughtering, the same 
beasts that would later constitute the basic barnyard stock of all 
the higher cultures. Their style of life was transitional, between the 
stages of food collecting and cultivation. 

The real crux of the archaeological problem of the origin of the 
basic arts of the food- cultivators, however, rests in the question, 
still unanswered, as to whether such Near Eastern remains actually 
represent the first steps toward agriculture and stock-breeding 
taken anywhere in the world, or may not, rather, represent merely 
an area of peripheral acculturation, the superficial adoption by 
nomadic hunters of ideas and elements derived from somewhere 

* "Before 8000 B.C.," according to Waller A Faiiservis, Jr. ("The An- 
cient East," Natural History, November 1958, p. 505), but "within five 
hundred years either way of about 5000 B.c.," according to Robert J. 
Braidwood (Primitive Men, Chicago Natural History Museum, 3rd edition, 
1957, p. 113). A sensible tentative mean would seem to be c. 7500-5500 B.c., 
as noted here. 



According to a view that has been gaining force in recent dec- 
ades, the latter is the more likely case. The first plantings should 
be sought, according to this conjecture, in that broad equatorial 
zone where the vegetable world has supplied not only the food, 
clothing, and shelter of man since time out of mind, but also his 
model of the wonder of life— in its cycle of growth and decay, 
blossom and seed, wherein death and life appear as transforma- 
tions of a single, superordinated, indestructible force.* Today we 
find throughout this immense area a well- developed style of vil- 
lage life based on a garden economy of yams, coconuts, bananas, 
taro, etc., as well as a characteristic cultural assemblage including 
rectangular gabled huts, drums made of split logs and a way of 
communicating by drum beats, a galaxy of distinctive musical in- 
struments, secret societies of a particular kind, tattooing, a type of 
bow and feathered arrow, such forms of burial and skull cult as 
have just been described for South or East Africa, bird-, snake-, 
and crocodile- worship, spirit posts and huts, particular methods of 
making fire, and a way of fashioning cloth of palm fiber and of 
bark. 2 Add to these an elaborate ritual lore culminating in com- 
munal rites of animal and human sacrifice, a mythology of the 
journey to the land of the dead in many particulars resembling that 
of the Malekulan guardian of the labyrinth, an astonishing com- 
munity of folklore motifs, and the spread of a single linguistic 
complex (the Malayo- Polynesian) from Madagascar, ofF the coast 
of Southeast Africa, to Easter Island, 3 and you have a considerable 
base from which to argue for a common sphere. Furthermore, 
when it is observed (and this point is of particular moment) that 
it was just beyond the eastern finger of this sphere that a highly 
developed system of agriculture appeared in Peru and Middle 
America, based largely on maize but including also some fifty- odd 
other crops and associated with the breeding of llamas and al- 
pacas (in Peru) and turkeys (in Mexico), whereas midway in the 
same vast zone (the Southeast Asian neighborhood of Indo- China 
and Indonesia) rice agriculture, the soybean, the water-buffalo, 

* Cf. supra, pp. 126- 129. 

t Supra, p. 127. 

1 Supra, pp. 68-69. 



and domestic fowl first appear, it cannot be surprising that a num- 
ber of scholars have developed the concept of a single culture 
realm, out of which, or in association with which, three major 
matrices of grain agriculture matured, namely: Southeast Asia 
(rice), the Near East (wheat and barley), and Peru and Middle 
America (maize). 

The archaeologists spading up the Near East, stage by stage, 
however, tend to believe that they are fathoming there the ulti- 
mate reach of the problem of the origins of the neolithic village— 
at least for the Afro- Eurasian hemisphere. In their view, the 
Southeast Asian complex would represent, then, the local adapta- 
tion of a system of arts carried thither by diffusion. And com- 
parably, many of those now exploring the origins of the high 
civilizations of Peru and Middle America believe that these too 
developed independently of the primitive gardening complex of the 
Madagascar-to-Easter-Island axis. The question is extremely com- 
plex and, for some reason, tends to involve scholars emotionally. 
I return to it in the following chapters, and meanwhile focus atten- 
tion on a brief reconstruction of the Near Eastern chapter of this 
intricate story. 

II. The Basal Neolithic: c. 5500-4500 B.C.* 

The second phase of the crucial Near Eastern development can 
be assigned schematically to the millennium between 5500 and 
4500 B.c. and termed the basal neolithic. Settled village life on 
the basis of an efficient barnyard economy now becomes a well- 
established pattern in the nuclear region, the chief grains being 
wheat and barley, and the animals the pig, goat, sheep, and ox 
(the dog having joined the human family much earlier as an aid to 
the hunters of the late paleolithic, perhaps c 15,000 B.C.) . Pottery 
and weaving have been added to the sum of human skills; likewise 

* The recent claims of a town- level at J ericho "at a period which must 
approach tire Eighth Millennium," if substantiated, would require us to 
move tire upper date for the basal neolithic back to c. 7000 B.c. However, 
many authorities doubt the evidence; e.g., Braidwood, op. dt., p. 120, and 
W. F. Albright, "A Survey of tire Archaeological Chronology of Palestine 
from Neolithic to Middle Bronze," in Robert W. Ehrich, ed.. Relative 
Chronologies in Old World Archaeology (Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, 1954), p. 29, note 2. 



the arts of carpentry and housebuilding. And the role of women 
has perhaps already been greatly enhanced, both socially and sym- 
bolically; for whereas in the hunting period the chief contributors 
to the sustenance of the tribes had been the men and the role of 
the women had been largely that of drudges, now the female's 
economic contributions were of first importance. She participated— 
perhaps even predominated— in the planting and reaping of the 
crops, and, as the mother of life and nourisher of life, was thought 
to assist the earth symbolically in its productivity. 

However, no one can speak with certainty of the social and re- 
ligious place of woman in this period, for the meager evidence of 
the bones and coarse pottery shards reveals nothing of her lot. One 
has to read back, hypothetically, from the evidence of the follow- 
ing millennium (4500-3500 B.C.), when a multitude of female 
figurines appear among the potsherds. These suggest that the ob- 
vious analogy of woman's life-giving and nourishing powers with 
those of the earth must already have led man to associate fertile 
womanhood with an idea of the motherhood of nature. We have 
no writing from this pre- literate age and no knowledge, conse- 
quently, of its myths or rites. It is therefore not unusual for ex- 
tremely well-trained archaeologists to pretend that they cannot 
imagine what services the numerous female figurines might have 
rendered to the households for which they were designed. How- 
ever, we know well enough what the services of such images were 
in the periods immediately following— and what they have re- 
mained to the present day. They give magical psychological aid to 
women in childbirth and conception, stand in house shrines to re- 
ceive daily prayers and to protect the occupants from physical as 
well as from spiritual danger, serve to support the mind in its medi- 
tations on the mystery of being, and, since they are frequently 
charming to behold, serve as ornaments in the pious home. They 
go forth with the farmer into his fields, protect the crops, protect 
the cattle in the bam. They are the guardians of children. They 
watch over the sailor at sea and the merchant on the road. 

A number of the typical and apparently perennial roles of this 
mother- goddess can be learned, furthermore, by simply perusing 
the Roman Catholic "Litany of Loreto," which is addressed to 


the Virgin Mother Mary. She is there called the Holy Mother of 
God, the Mother of Divine Grace and Mother of Good Counsel; 
the Virgin most renowned. Virgin most powerful. Virgin most 
merciful. Virgin most faithful; and she is praised as the Mirror of 
Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Cause of our Joy, Gate of Heaven, 
Morning Star, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Comforter 
of the Afflicted, and Queen of Peace; Tower of David, Tower of 
Ivory, and House of Gold. 

Among the symbols associated with the great goddess in the 
archaic arts of the Mediterranean we find the mirror, the kingly 
throne of wisdom, the gate, the morning and evening star, and a 
column flanked by lions rampant. Moreover, among the numerous 
neolithic figurines of her we see her standing pregnant, squatting 
as though in childbirth, holding an infant to her breast, clutching 
her breasts with her two hands, or one breast while pointing with 
the other hand to her genitals (the posture modified in the Roman 
period in the celebrated image of the same goddess found in the 
porticus of Octavia and now in Florence, the Medicean Venus). 
Or again, we may see her endowed with the head of a cow, bearing 
in her arms a bull-headed child; standing naked on the back of a 
lion; or flanked by animals rampant, lions or goats. Her arms 
may be opened to the sides, as though to receive us, or extended, 
holding flowers, holding serpents. She may be crowned with the 
wall of a city. Or again, she may be seen sitting between the 
horns, or riding on the back, of a mighty bull. 

III. The High Neolithic: c. 4500-3500 B.c. 

In the period in which this neolithic constellation of naked 
female figurines first appears, and which may be called the high 
neolithic, the pottery becomes suddenly— very suddenly— extraor- 
dinarily fine and beautifully decorated; showing, moreover, a to- 
tally new concept of ornamental art and of the organization of 
aesthetic forms, one such as had never before appeared in the 
history of the world. In the earlier, paleolithic art of the great caves 
of southern France and northern Spain— of which we treat in 
Part Three— one finds no evidence of any concept of the geo- 



metrical organization of an aesthetic field. In fact, the painted or 
incised surfaces of the cave walls were so little regarded as fields 
of aesthetic interest that the animals frequently overlap each other 
in great tangles. Nor do we find anything like a geometrically or- 
ganized aesthetic field in the works surviving from the later, terminal 
stages of the paleolithic. Many of the petroglyphs in the later stages 
of the hunting age have lost their earlier impressionistic beauty 
and precision; some have even deteriorated into mere geometrical 
scrawls or abstractions. Furthermore, on certain flat painted peb- 
bles that have been found in what were apparently religious sanc- 
tuaries of the hunters, geometrical devices appear: the cross, the 
cirde with a dot in the center, a line with a dot on either side, 
stripes, meanders, and something resembling the letter E. How- 
ever, we do not find, even in this latest stage of the hunting period, 
anything that could be termed a geometrical organization, any- 
thing suggesting the concept of a definitely drcumscribed field in 
which a number of disparate elements have been united or fused 
into one aesthetic whole by a rhythm of beauty. Whereas suddenly— 
very suddenly— in the period that we are now discussing, which 
coinddes with the appearance in the world of well-established, 
strongly developing settled villages, there breaks into view an 
abundance of the most gracefully and consdously organized circu- 
lar compositions of geometrical and abstract motifs, on the pottery 
of the so-called Halaf and Samarra styles. 

And we find certain symbols in the centers of these designs that 
have remained charaderistic of such organizations to the present 
day. In the Samarra ware, for example, there occurs the earliest 
known association of the swastika with the center of a circular 
composition (there is, in fact, only one earlier known occurrence 
of the swastika anywhere: on the under-wings of an outstretched 
flying bird carved of mammoth ivory and found in a paleolithic 
site not far from Kiev). We find the Maltese cross, too, in the 
centers of these earliest known geometrical designs— occasionally 
modified in such a way as to suggest stylized animal forms emerg- 
ing from the arms; and in several examples the figures of women 
appear, with their feet or heads coming together in the middle 



of the circular design, to form a star. Again, the forms of four 
gazelles may circumambulate a tree. A number of the bowls show 
lovely wading birds catching fish. 

Pottery designs, c. 4000 B.C. Halaf ware (left), Samarra ware (right) 

The archaeological site after which this superb series of decorated 
vessels has been named, Samarra, is located in Iraq, on the river 
Tigris, some seventy miles above Baghdad; and the area over 
which the ware has been diffused extends northward to Nineveh, 
southward to the head of the Persian Gulf, and eastward, across 
Iran, as far as to the border of Afghanistan. The Halaf ware, on 
the other hand, is scattered through an area northward of this, 
with its chief center in northern Syria, just south of the so-called 
Taurus, or Bull, Mountains of Anatolia (now Turkey), where 
the river Euphrates and its tributaries descend from the foothills 
to the plain. And what is most remarkable is the prominence in 
this beautifully decorated northwestern ware of the bull's head 
(the so-called bucranium), viewed from the front and with great 
curving horns. The form is rendered both naturalistically and in 
variously stylized, very graceful designs. Another prominent device 
in this series is the double ax. We find the Maltese cross once 
again, as in Samarra, but no swastika, nor those graceful gazelle 
designs. Furthermore, in association with the female statuettes 
(which are numerous in this context) clay figures of the dove ap- 
pear, as well as of the cow, humped ox, sheep, goat, and pig. One 



charming fragment represents the goddess standing, clothed, be- 
tween two goats rampant— that on her left a male, the other a 
female giving suck to a young kid. And all the symbols are asso- 
ciated in this Halafian culture complex with the so-called beehive 

But this is precisely the complex that appeared a full mil- 
lennium later in Crete, and from there was carried by sea, through 
the Gates of Hercules, northward to the British Isles and south- 
ward to the Gold Coast, Nigeria, and the Congo. It is the basic 
complex, also, of the Mycenaean culture, from which the Greeks, 
and thereby ourselves, derived so many symbols. And when the 
cult of the dead and resurrected bull- god was carried from 
Syria to the Nile Delta, in the fourth or third millennium B.C., 
these symbols went with it. Indeed, I believe that we may daim 
with a very high degree of certainty that in this Halafian symbology 
of the bull and goddess, the dove, and the double ax, we have the 
earliest evidence yet discovered anywhere of the prodigiously in- 
fluential mythology assodated for us with the great names of Ishtar 
and Tammuz, Venus and Adonis, Isis and Osiris, Mary and Jesus. 
From the Taurus Mountains, the mountains of the bull- god, who 
may already have been identified with the homed moon, which 
dies and is resurrected three days later, the cult was diffused, with 
the art of cattle-breeding itself, practically to the ends of the earth; 
and we celebrate the mystery of that mythological death and 
resurredion to this day, as a promise of our own eternity. But 
what experience and understanding of eternity, and what of time, 
gave rise in that early period to this constellation of eloquent 
forms? And why in the image of the bull? 


An important development, full of meaning and promise for 
the history of mankind in dvilizations to come, took place in the 
latter part of this same period (c. 4000 B.C.) when certain of the 
peasant villages began to assume the size and fundion of market 
towns and there was an expansion of the culture area southward 
onto the mud flats of riverine Mesopotamia. This is the period in 
which the mysterious race of Sumerians first appears on the scene. 



to establish on the torrid Tigris and Euphrates delta flats sites that 
were to become presently the kingly cities of Ur, Kish, Lagash, 
Eridu, Sippar, Shuruppak, Nippur, and Erech. The only natural 
resources there were mud and reeds. Wood and stone had to be 
imported from the north, and very soon little copper beads would 
begin appearing among the imports, for the age of metal was 
about to dawn. But the mud was fertile, and the fertility annually 
refreshed. Furthermore, the mud could be fashioned into sun- 
dried bricks, which now appear for the first time in history, and 
these could be used for the construction of temples— which like- 
wise now appear for the first time in the history of the world. Their 
typical form is well known; it was that of the ziggurat in its earliest 
stages— a little height, artificially constructed, with a sanctuary on 
its summit for the ritual of the world- generating union of the earth- 
goddess with the lord of the sky. And if we may judge from the 
evidence of the following centuries, the queen or princess of each 
city was in those earliest days identified with the goddess, and the 
king, her spouse, with the god. 

The painted pottery from the earliest level of these south Meso- 
potamian riverine sites is known to archaeology as Obeid ware, 
after an excavated mound. Tell el- Obeid, just south of the southern 
reach of the river Euphrates and not far from the ancient city (soon 
to rise) of Ur, from which Father Abram and his wife Sarai are 
supposed to have departed (Genesis 11:31). And this again is a 
fine, geometrically ornamented ware, somewhat less graceful, per- 
haps, and less colorful than the products of the rich Efalaf and 
Samarra styles, but remarkably beautiful nevertheless. Its designs, 
with few exceptions, are not polychromatic, but painted on a 
light background in one color only, black or brown. And the 
period is dated circa 4000-3500 B.C. 4 

IV. The Hieratic City State: c. 3500-2500 B.c. 

We have taken note of: the proto- neolithic period of the Natu- 
fians, which is to be dated somewhere between 7500 and 5500 
B.c., when the first signs of an incipient grain agriculture appeared 
in widely scattered parts of the Near East; the basal neolithic of 



the earliest settled villages, circa 5500-4500 B.C.,* centered ap- 
parently in regions neighboring the upper reaches of the Tigris 
and Euphrates river systems, but extending eastward into Iran, 
westward into Anatolia (now Turkey), and southward, along the 
Mediterranean, into Egypt; and then, finally, the high neolithic of 
the Halaf and Samarra pottery styles, circa 4500-3500 B.C., and 
of the Obeid style in the riverine south, circa 4000-3500 B.C., 
when the abstract concept of a geometrically organized esthetic 
field and certain abstract and stylized symbols (the Maltese cross, 
swastika, rosette, double ax, and bucranium) first appear in our 
documentation of human thought, together with the earliest ex- 
amples of a neolithic series of naked female figurines, representing 
functions of the fertility goddess of a well-established, land-rooted 

This last was the period when the earliest signs of human habi- 
tation began appearing in the mud flats of riverine Mesopotamia. 
Furthermore, over the whole area, from Anatolia to Egypt and 
from the Mediterranean to Iran, the more strategically situated 
villages began developing into market towns, while some of the 
smaller villages seem to have begun specializing in particular crafts. 
For example, in a small but extremely interesting site known to 
archaeology as Arpachiya, in northern Iraq, not far from the 
larger, walled settlement of Nineveh, there was found in the 
center of the community the large shop of an extraordinarily com- 
petent potter, who appears to have been the headman of the village. 
He had set out many of his bowls on display on shelves around 
the walls of his comparatively large adobe dwelling; so that we get 
the impression of a community of peasant potters, tilting their own 
fields and breeding their cattle, but fashioning their beautiful Halaf 
ware not for themselves alone but for an elite market somewhere 
else as well; possibly Nineveh, the nearby larger town. For trade 
was developing in this period no less than agriculture and the 
arts— the arts of pottery, stone carving, jewelry, and weaving. 5 

It was, moreover, in the larger market towns of this period, as 
we have seen, that the earliest ziggurats appeared in the course of 

* But see footnote, supra, p. 138. 


the fourth millennium B.C., symbolizing, apparently, the pivot of 
the universe, where the life- generating union of the powers of 
earth and heaven was consummated in a ritual marriage. Perhaps 
the ritual was enacted by a divine queen and her spouse, if kings 
and queens can be assumed to have come into being already in 
this early day. We know exactly nothing of the social and political 
structure of the high neolithic market town. 

However, in the period immediately following— that of the 
hieratic city state, which may be dated for the south Mesopotamian 
riverine towns, schematically, circa 3500-2500 B.C.— we encounter 
a totally new and remarkable situation. For at the level of the 
archaeological stratum known as Uruk A, which is immediately 
above the Obeid and can be roughly placed at circa 3500 B.C., 
the south Mesopotamian temple areas can be seen to have increased 
notably in size and importance; and then, with stunning abrupt- 
ness, at a crucial date that can be almost precisely fixed at 3200 
B.c. (in the period of the archaeological stratum known as Uruk 
B), there appears in this little Sumerian mud garden— as though 
the flowers of its tiny cities were suddenly bursting into bloom— 
the whole cultural syndrome that has since constituted the germinal 
unit of all of the high civilizations of the world. And we cannot 
attribute this event to any achievement of the mentality of simple 
peasants. Nor was it the mechanical consequence of a simple piling 
up of material artifacts, economically determined. It was actually 
and clearly the highly conscious creation (this much can be asserted 
with complete assurance) of the mind and science of a new order 
of humanity, which had never before appeared in the history of 
mankind; namely, the professional, full-time, initiated, stricdy 
regimented temple priest. 

The new inspiration of civilized life was based, first, on the 
discovery, through long and meticulous, carefully checked and re- 
checked observations, that there were, besides the sun and moon, 
five other visible or barely visible heavenly spheres (to wit. Mer- 
cury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) which moved in estab- 
lished courses, according to established laws, along the ways fol- 
lowed by the sun and moon, among the fixed stars; and then, 
second, on the almost insane, playful, yet potentially terrible no- 



tion that the laws governing the movements of the seven heavenly 
spheres should in some mystical way be the same as those govern- 
ing the life and thought of men on earth. The whole city, not 
simply the temple area, was now conceived as an imitation on 
earth of the cosmic order, a sociological "middle cosmos," or 
mesocosm, established by priestcraft between the macrocosm of 
the universe and the microcosm of the individual, making visible 
the one essential form of all. The king was the center, as a human 
representative of the power made celestially manifest either in the 
sun or in the moon, according to the focus of the local cult; the 
walled city was organized architecturally in the design of a quar- 
tered circle (like the circles designed on the ceramic ware of the 
period just preceding), centered around the pivotal sanctum of 
the palace or ziggurat (as the ceramic designs around the cross, 
rosette, or swastika); and there was a mathematically structured 
calendar to regulate the seasons of the city's life according to the 
passages of the sun and moon among the stars— as well as a highly 
developed system of liturgical arts, including music, the art render- 
ing audible to human ears the world- ordering harmony of the 
celestial spheres. 

It was at this moment in human destiny that the art of writing 
first appeared in the world and that scriptorially documented his- 
tory therefore begins. Also, the wheel appeared. And we have evi- 
dence of the development of the two numerical systems still 
normally employed throughout the civilized world, the decimal 
and the sexigesimal; the former was used mostly for business ac- 
counts in the offices of the temple compounds, where the grain 
was stored that had been collected as taxes, and the latter for the 
ritualistic measuring of space and time as well. Three hundred 
and sixty degrees, then as now, represented the circumference of a 
circle— the cycle of the horizon— while three hundred and sixty 
days, plus five, marked the measurement of the circle of the year, 
the cycle of time. The five intercalated days that bring the total to 
three hundred and sixty-five were taken to represent a sacred open- 
ing through which spiritual energy flowed into the round of the 
temporal universe from the pleroma of eternity, and they were 
designated, consequently, days of holy feast and festival. Com- 



parably, the ziggurat, the pivotal point in the center of the sacred 
circle of space, where the earthly and heavenly powers joined, was 
also characterized by the number five; for the four sides of the 
tower, oriented to the points of the compass, came together at 
the summit, the fifth point, and it was there that the energy of 
heaven met the earth. 

This early Sumerian temple tower with the hieratically organized 
little city surrounding it, where everyone played his role according 
to the rules of a celestially inspired divine game, supplied the 
model of paradise that we find, centuries later, in the Hindu- 
Buddhist imagery of the world mountain, Sumeru, whose jeweled 
slopes, facing the four directions, peopled on the west by sacred 
serpents, on the south by gnomes, on the north by earth giants, 
and on the east by divine musicians, rose from the mid-point of 
the earth as the vertical axis of the egg-shaped universe, and bore 
on its quadrangular summit the palatial mansions of the deathless 
gods, whose towered city was known as Amaravati, "The Town 
Immortal." But it was the model also of the Greek Olympus, the 
Aztec temples of the sun, and Dante's holy mountain of Purgatory, 
bearing on its summit the Earthly Paradise. For the form and con- 
cept of the City of God conceived as a "mesocosm" (an earthly imi- 
tation of the celestial order of the macrocosm) which emerged on 
the threshold of history circa 3200 B.c., at precisely that geo- 
graphical point where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates reach the 
Persian Gulf, was disseminated eastward and westward along the 
ways already blazed by the earlier neolithic. The wonderful life- 
organizing assemblage of ideas and principles— including those of 
kingship, writing, mathematics, and calendrical astronomy — 
reached the Nile, to inspire the civilization of the First Dynasty of 
Egypt, circa 2800 B.C.; it spread to Crete on the one hand, and, 
on the other, to the valley of the Indus, circa 2600 B.C.; to Shang 
China, circa 1600 B.C.; and, according to at least one high au- 
thority, Dr. Robert Heine- Geldem, from China across the Pacific, 
during the prosperous seafaring period of the late Chou Dynasty, 
between the seventh and fourth centuries B.C., to Peru and Middle 
America. « 

If the last fact be true as well as the rest (and its likelihood is con- 



sidered in the following chapters), then it can be said without exag- 
geration that all the high civilizations of the world are to be thought 
of as the limbs of one great tree, whose root is in heaven. And 
should we now attempt to formulate the sense or meaning of that 
mythological root— the life- inspiring monad that precipitated the 
image of man's destiny as an organ of the living cosmos— we might 
say that the psychological need to bring the parts of a large and 
socially differentiated settled community, comprising a number 
of newly developed social classes (priests, kings, merchants, and 
peasants), into an orderly relationship to each other, and simul- 
taneously to suggest the play through all of a higher, all- suffusing, 
all- informing, energizing principle— this profoundly felt psycho- 
logical as well as sociological requirement must have been fulfilled 
with the recognition, some time in the fourth millennium B.c., of 
the orderly round- dance of the five visible planets and the sun and 
moon through the constellations of the zodiac. This celestial order 
then became the model for mankind in the building of an earthly 
order of coordinated wills— a model for both kings and philoso- 
phers, inasmuch as it seemed to show forth the supporting law 
not only of the universe but of every particle within it. In our 
normal earthly way of knowledge, we may become distracted by 
the multiplicity of the world's effects, as well as by our misdirected 
desires for personal power and pleasure, and, losing touch with 
the inward order of our being, go astray. But the law of heaven 
now shall set us aright; for, as we read— once again— in the words 
of Plato: "The motions akin to the divine part in us are the 
thoughts and revolutions of the universe; these, therefore, every 
man should follow, and correcting those circuits in the head that 
were deranged at birth, by learning to know the harmonies and 
revolutions of the world, he should bring the intelligent part, ac- 
cording to its pristine nature, into the likeness of that which in- 
telligence discerns, and thereby win the fulfillment of the best in 
life set by the gods before mankind both for this present time and 
for the life to come . " 7 

The Egyptian term for this universal order was Ma'at; in India 
it is Dharma; and in China, Tao. 

And if we now try to convey in a sentence the sense and mean- 


ing of all the myths and rituals that have sprung from this con- 
ception of a universal order, we may say that they are its structur- 
ing agents, functioning to bring the human order into accord with 
the celestial. "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." The 
myths and rites constitute a mesocosm— a mediating, middle cos- 
mos, through which the microcosm of the individual is brought 
into relation to the macrocosm of the all. And this mesocosm is 
the entire context of the body social, which is thus a kind of living 
poem, hymn, or icon of mud and reeds, and of flesh and blood, 
and of dreams, fashioned into the art form of the hieratic city 
state. Life on earth is to mirror, as nearly perfectly as is possible 
in human bodies, the almost hidden— yet now discovered— order 
of the pageant of the spheres. 


I. The Legend of the Destruction of Kash 

A legend throwing a beam of light into the past of the now 
largely Mohammedan Sudan was told in 1912, in the market place 
of the capital of Kordofan, by a proud graybeard, Arach-ben- 
Hassul, captain of the camel- boys of the Frobenius Kordofan Ex- 
pedition. The little city of El Obeid, some 240 miles southwestward 
of Khartoum,* was teeming with tribesmen from every quarter 
of the bleak and sparsely populated countryside— Berbers, Arabs, 
Nubians, forgotten tribesmen from the fastnesses of the outlying 
hills— who had come streaming in to shout welcome to the new 
consul general. Lord Kitchener. The period was a delicate one po- 
litically. Italy had opened war on Turkey, bombarding Prevaza 
without warning and occupying Tripoli, Cyrenaica, and the Dode- 
canese Islands; so that Kitchener, to keep his charges occupied 
with their own affairs, had instituted a broad program of economic 
reform: the opening of cotton markets throughout the country, 
village schools, savings banks, cantonal courts, and a heightening 
of the Aswan dam. It was a fortunate moment for the science of 
comparative mythology that set the German pencils to work among 
the squatting clusters of camel- keepers, cattle nomads, and chival- 
rous bandits who were listening everywhere to the story-tellers 
rehearsing the old legends of the great past of Kordofan, of Darfur 
to the west, Ethiopia eastward, Nubia to the north, and Damuba 

* Not to be confused with the Tdl-el-Obeid of Chapter 3, which is in 




to the south. Arach-ben-Hassul, from the province of Darfur, was 
a descendant of one of the last surviving families of the old guild 
of the coppercraftsmen of Kordofan, and he too sat listening. For 
seven days he sat in silence behind his beard. And when he had 
listened for seven days, on the eighth day Arach-ben-Hassul stood 
up, passed his hand across his eyes, down his face, and to his 
beard, and said, "I speak." 

His tale was "The Legend of the Destruction of Kash," of a 
time— not "once upon a time," but in a period long past— when 
this region, which today is a cultural as well as a physical desert, 
was green and great. 

"Four kings at that time ruled an empire in this realm," he told 
the squatting cluster of scions of the great past: 

and the first king dwelt in Nubia, the second in Ethiopia, a 
third in Kordofan, and the fourth in Darfur; but the richest 
of the four was the Nap of Napata in Kordofan, whose capital 
stood near the site of the village now called Hophrat-en-Nahas. 
The Nap of Napata was the possessor of all the copper and 
gold of the region. His gold and copper were carried to Nubia, 
to be sent to the great kings of the West. Also, envoys arrived 
in his court from eastward, from over sea, by ship. And to the 
south he held domain over many peoples: these forged for him 
iron weapons and furnished slaves by the many thousand for 
his court. 

But now, although this king was the richest man on earth, 
his life was the saddest and shortest of all mankind; for each 
Nap of Napata could rule but a brief span of years. Through- 
out his reign the priests every night observed the stars, made 
offerings, kindled sacred fires; and they were not to miss a 
night of these prayers and offerings, lest they should lose 
track of the stars and not know when, according to practice, 
the king was to be killed. The custom had come down from 
time out of mind. Night by night, year after year, the priests 
were to keep watch for the day when the king should be killed. 

And so, once again, as so many times before, that day ar- 
rived. The hind legs of sacrificial bulls were slashed; the fires 
of the land were extinguished; women were locked indoors; 
and the priests kindled the new fire. They summoned the new 
king. He was the son of the sister of the one just killed, and his 
name, this time, was Akaf : but Akaf was the king in whose 
period the ancient customs of the land were changed— and 



people say that this change was the cause of the destruction 
of Napata. 

Now the first official act of every Nap of Napata was that 
of deciding what persons should accompany him on the path 
of death. They were to be chosen from those dearest to him, 
and the first named would be the one to lead the rest. A slave 
named Far-li-mas, celebrated for his story-telling art, had ar- 
rived in the court some years before from over sea, sent as 
a gift by a king of the distant East. And the new Nap of Napata 
said: "This man shall be my first companion. He will entertain 
me until the time for my death; and make me happy after 

When Far-li-mas heard, he was not afraid. He only said 
to himself: "It is God's will." 

And it was, moreover, the custom at that time in Napata 
that a flame should be kept burning perpetually, just as today 
in certain secluded places in Darfur; and for its maintenance 
the priests were to designate a young boy and girl. These 
should watch the fire, be absolutely chaste throughout their 
lives, and be killed, not together with the king, but immediately 
after, at the moment of the kindling of the new flame. And 
so, now, when the new fire had been established for Akaf, the 
priests chose as vestal for the coming term the youngest sister 
of the new king. Her name was Sali— Sali-fu-Hamr. But she 
was afraid of death and, when she heard how the choice had 
fallen, was appalled. 

The king lived, for a while, happily, in great delight, enjoy- 
ing the wealth and majesty of his domain. He spent each 
evening with his friends and with whatever visitors may have 
come as envoys to the court. But one fateful night God allowed 
him to realize that with each of these joyous days he was mov- 
ing one step closer to certain death; and he was filled with 
fear. He was unable to turn the dreadful thought away and 
became depressed. Whereupon God sent him a second 
thought: that of letting Far-li-mas tell a story. 

Far-li-mas, therefore, was summoned. He appeared, and 
the king said: "Far-li-mas, today the day has arrived when 
you must cheer me. Tell me a story." "The performance is 
quicker than the command," said Far-li-mas, and began. The 
king listened; the guests also listened. The king and his guests 
forgot to drink, forgot to breathe. The slaves forgot to serve. 
They, too, forgot to breathe. For the art of Far-li-mas was like 
hashish, and, when he had ended, all were as though enveloped 
in a delightful swoon. The king had forgotten his thoughts of 


death. Nor had any realized that they were being held from 
twilight until dawn; but when the guests departed they found 
the sun in the sky. 

Akaf and his company, that day, could hardly wait till eve- 
ning; and thereafter, every day, Far-li-mas was summoned to 
perform. The report of his tales spread throughout the court, 
the city, the land, and the king presented him, each day, with 
the gift of a beautiful garment. The guests and envoys gave 
him gold and jewels. He became rich. And when he now went 
through the streets he was followed by a troop of slaves. The 
people loved him. They began to bare their breasts to him, 
in sign of honor. 

Sali, hearing of the wonder, sent a message to her brother. 
"Let me," she asked, "just once, hear Far-li-mas tell a story!" 

"The fulfillment goes before the wish," the king replied. 

And Sali came. 

Far-li-mas saw Sali and for a moment lost his senses. All 
that he saw was Sali. 

All that Sali saw was Far-li-mas. 

The king said: "But why do you not begin your story? Do 
you not know any more?" 

Removing his eyes from Sali, the story-teller began. And 
his tale was first like the hashish that induces a gentle stupe- 
fication, but then like the hashish that carries men through 
unconsciousness to sleep. After a time the guests were sleep- 
ing; the king was sleeping. They were hearing the story only 
in dream, until they were carried entirely away, and only Sali 
remained awake. Her eyes were fixed on Far-li-mas. She was 
filled completely with Far-li-mas. And when he had finished 
the tale and arose, she, too, arose. 

Far-li-mas moved toward Sali: Sali toward Far-li-mas. He 
embraced her: she embraced him, and she said: "We do not 
want to die." He laughed into her eyes. "It is yours to com- 
mand," he said. "Show me the way." And she answered: 
"Leave me now. I shall think of a way, and when the way 
has been found, shall call you." They parted. And the king 
and his guests lay there asleep. 

That day, Sali went to the high priest. "Who is it determines 
the time when the old fire is put out," she asked, "and the 
new one kindled?" 

"That is decided by God," answered the priest. 

Sali asked: "But how does God communicate his will to 

"Every night we keep watch on the stars," the priest said. 



'"We do not let them out of our sight. Every night we ob- 
serve the moon and we know, from night to night, which 
stars are approaching the moon and which moving away. It 
is by this that we know. " 

Sali said: "And you must do that every night? What hap- 
pens of a night when nothing can be seen?" 

The priest said: "On such a night we make many offerings. 
If a number of nights should pass when nothing could be 
seen, we should not be able to find our stars again. " 

Sali said: "Would you then not know when the fire should 
be extinguished?" 

"No," said the priest, "we should not be in a position, 
then, to fulfill our office." 

Whereupon Sali said to him: "God's works are great. The 
greatest, however, is not his writing in the sky. His greatest 
work is our life on earth. This I learned last night." 

"What do you mean?" said the priest. 

And Sali answered: "God gave Far-li-mas the gift of telling 
tales in a way that has never before been equaled. It is greater 
than his writing in the sky. " 

The priest retorted: "You are wrong." 

But Sali said to him: "The moon and stars, these you know. 
But have you heard the tales of Far-li-mas?" 

" No, " said the priest, "I have not heard them. " 

She asked: "How, then, can you pronounce a judgment? 
I assure you that even you priests, when listening, will forget 
to keep watch of the stars. " 

"Sister of the king, are you quite sure?" 

She answered: "Only prove to me that I am wrong and 
that the writing in the sky is greater and stronger than this 
life on earth. " 

"That is just what I shall prove," said the priest. 

And the priest then sent word to the young king. "Allow 
the priests to come to your palace tonight and listen to the 
tales of Far-li-mas from the setting to the rising of the sun." 

The king consented, and Sali sent word to Far-li-mas: "To- 
night you must do as you did before. This will be the way. " 

And so, when the sun was approaching the hour of its 
setting and the king, his guests, and the envoys were assem- 
bling, they were joined by all the priests, who bared the upper 
parts of their bodies and prostrated themselves on the ground. 
The high priest said: "It has been declared that the tales of 
Far-li-mas are the greatest of God's works." The king said to 
him: "You may decide for yourselves." "You will pardon us. 



O King," prayed the high priest, "if we depart from your 
palace at the rising of the moon, to fulfill the duties of our 
office." And the king replied: "Act according to God's 

Whereupon the priests took their places. The guests and 
the envoys took their places. The hall was filled with people 
and Far- li- mas made a way between them "Begin," said the 
king. "Begin, my dear Companion in Death." Far-li-mas 
looked at Sali, Sali at Far-li-mas; and the king said: "But 
why do you not begin your story? Do you not know any 

Removing his eyes from Sali, the story-teller began. 

And his tale commenced as the sun was going down. It 
was like the hashish that bedouds and transports. It was like 
the hashish that induces faintness. It was like the hashish that 
sends one into a dead faint. So that when the moon rose, the 
king, his guests, and the envoys lay asleep, and the priests 
too lay in a sound sleep. Only Sali was awake, drawing in 
with her eyes sweet words from the lips of Far-li-mas. 

The tale was ended, Far-li-mas rose and moved toward 
Sali; she toward him, and she said: "Let me kiss these lips, 
from which come words that are so sweet." She pressed dose 
to his lips, and Far-li-mas said to her: "Let me embrace this 
form that has given me the power." They embraced, entwin- 
ing arms and legs, and lay awake among those that slum- 
bered, knowing such happiness as breaks the heart. Rejoidng, 
Sali asked: "Do you see the way?" "Yes," the other replied, 
"I do." And they left the hall. So that in the palace there re- 
mained only those that slept. 

Sali came to the high priest the next morning. "So now 
tell me," she said, "whether you were right in your condem- 
nation of my judgment." 

He answered: "I shall not give my reply today. We must 
listen once more to Far-li-mas; for yesterday we were not 

And so, the priests attended to their prayers and offerings. 
The fetlocks of many bullocks were slashed, and throughout 
the day, without pause, prayers were redted in the temple. 
When evening came they arrived in the palace. 

Sali sat again beside the king, her brother, and Far-li-mas 
commenced his tale. So that once again, before the dawn had 
come, all slept— the king, his guests, the envoys, and the 
priests— enwrapt in rapture. But Sali and Far-li-mas were 



awake among them and sucked joy from each other's lips. 
And they embraced again, entwining arms and legs. And 
thus it continued, from day to day, for many days. 

But if there had gone out among the people, at first, the 
news of Far-li-mas 1 tales, now there went out among them 
the rumor that the priests were neglecting their offerings and 
prayer. Uneasiness began to spread abroad, until, one day, 
a distinguished gentleman of the city paid a visit to the high 

"When do we celebrate the next festival of the season?" 
he asked. "I am planning a voyage and wish to return for 
the feast. How long have I got?" 

The priest was embarrassed; for it had been many nights 
since he had seen the moon and stars. He replied: "Wait 
only one day; then I shall tell you." 

"My thanks," said the man. "I shall return tomorrow." 

The priests were summoned and their chief inquired: 
"Which of you, recently, has observed the course of the 

They were silent. Not a single voice replied; for all had 
been listening to the tales of Far-li-mas. 

"Is there not one among you that has observed the course 
of the stars and position of the moon?" 

They sat perfectly still, until one, who was very old, arose 
and spoke. "We were enchanted," he said, "by Far-li-mas. 
Not one of us can tell you when the feasts are to be cele- 
brated, when the fire is to be quenched, and when the new 
fire is to be kindled." 

The high priest was terrified. "How can this be?" he cried. 
"What shall 1 tell the people?" 

The very old priest replied: "It is the will of God. But if 
Far-li-mas has not been sent by God, let him be killed; for as 
long as he lives and speaks, everything will listen." 

"What, however, shall I tell the man?" the high priest de- 

Whereat all were silent. And the company, then, silently 

The high priest went to Sali. "What was it," he asked, 
"that you said to me on that first day?" 

She answered, "I said, 'God's works are great. The great- 
est, however, is not his writing in the sky, but the life on earth.' 
You rejected my word as untrue. But now, today, tell me 
whether I lied." 



The priest said to her: "Far-li-mas is against God. He must 

But Sali answered: "Far-li-mas is the Companion in Death 
of the king." 

The priest said: "I shall speak with the king. " 

And Sali answered: "God dwells in my brother. Ask him 
what he thinks." 

The high priest proceeded to the palace and addressed him- 
self to the king, whose sister, Sali, now sat beside him. The 
high priest bared his chest before the king, and, throwing 
himself on the ground, prayed: "Pardon, Akaf, O my King!" 

"Tell me," said the king, "what is in your heart." 

"Speak to me," the high priest said, "of Far-li-mas your 
Companion in Death. " 

The king said to him: "God sent me, first, the thought of 
the approaching day of my death, and I was afraid. God 
sent me, next, the recollection of Far-li-mas, who was sent 
to me as a gift from the land eastward, beyond the sea. God 
confused my understanding with the first thought. With the 
second he enlivened my spirits and made me— and all others— 
happy. So I gave beautiful garments to Far-li-mas. My friends 
gave him gold and jewels. He distributed much of this among 
the people. He is rich, as he deserves to be; and the people 
love him, as I do." 

"Far-li-mas," the high priest said, "must die. Far-li-mas is 
disrupting the revealed order. " 

Said the king, “I die before him." 

But the priest said: "The will of God will give the decision 
in this matter." 

"So be it! And to this," the king replied, "the whole people 
shall bear witness." 

The priest departed, and Sali spoke to Akaf. "O my King! 
O my brother! The end of the road is near. The companion 
of your death will be the awakener of your life. However, I 
require him for myself, as the fulfillment of my destiny." 

"My sister Sali," said Akaf, "then you may take him." 

Heralds went out through the city and cried in every 
quarter that Far-li-mas, that evening, would speak in the great 
square before all. A veiled throne for the king was erected 
in the large plaza between the royal palace and the buildings 
of the priests, and when evening came, the people streamed 
from all sides and settled everywhere, round about. Thousands 
upon thousands assembled. The priests arrived and took their 
places. The guests and the envoys arrived and were seated. 



Sali sat beside her brother, Akaf, the veiled king; and Far-li- 
mas then was called. 

He arrived. His entire retinue came behind him, all clothed 
in dazzling garments, and they placed themselves opposite 
the priests. Far-li-mas, himself, bowed before the veiled king, 
and assumed his seat. 

The high priest arose. "Far-li-mas has destroyed our estab- 
lished order," he said. "Tonight will show if this was by the 
will of God." And he resumed his place. 

Far-li-mas removed his eyes from Sali, gazed about over 
the multitude, glanced at the priests, and arose. "I am a 
servant of God," he said, "and believe that all evil in the 
human heart is repugnant to God. Tonight," said Far-li-mas, 
"God will decide." And he commenced his tale. 

His words were at first as sweet as honey, his voice pene- 
trating the multitude as the first rain of summer the parched 
earth. From his tongue there went forth a perfume more ex- 
quisite than musk or incense: his head shone like a light, the 
only luminary in a black night. And his tale in the beginning 
was like the hashish that makes people happy when awake; 
then it became like the hashish of a dreamer. Toward morn- 
ing he raised his voice, however, and his words swelled like the 
rising Nile in the hearts of the people: they were for some 
as pacifying as the entrance into Paradise, but as frighten- 
ing for others as the Angel of Death. Joy filled the spirits 
of some, horror the hearts of others. And the closer the mo- 
ment of dawn, the more powerful became his voice, the louder 
its reverberations within the people, until the hearts of the 
multitude reared against each other as in a battle; stormed 
against each other like the clouds in the heavens of a tempes- 
tuous night. Lightning bolts of anger and thunderclaps of 
wrath collided. 

But when the sun rose and the tale of Far-li-mas closed, 
unspeakable astonishment filled the confused minds of all; 
for when those who remained alive looked about them their 
glances fell upon the priests— and the priests lay dead upon 
the ground. 

Sali got up and prostrated herself before the veiled king. 
"O my King!" she said, "O my brother! Akaf! Throw from 
yourself the veil; show yourself to your people and offer up 
the offering, now, yourself! For these here have been mowed 
down by the Angel of Death, Azrail, through God's com- 

The servants removed the veil from around the royal 



throne and Akaf stood up. He was the first of their fine of 
kings whom the people of Napata had ever seen. He was 
young, and as beautiful to look upon as the rising sun. 

The multitude was jubilant. A white steed was brought, 
which the king mounted. At his left there walked his sister, 
at his right, the teller of tales, and he rode to the temple. 
The young king took up the mattock in the temple and hoed 
three holes in the holy ground. Far- li- mas tossed three seeds 
into these. The king then hoed two holes in the holy ground 
and Sali tossed two seeds into these. Immediately and simul- 
taneously the five seeds sprouted, growing before the eyes 
of the people, and by noon the heads of grain of all five 
were ripe. In all the courts of the city the fathers of families 
slashed the fetlocks of great bulls. The king extinguished 
the fire in the temple, and all the fathers of the city extin- 
guished the fires of their hearths. Sali kindled the new fire, 
and all of the young virgins in the city came and took fire from 
this flame. And since that day, there have been no more 
human sacrifices in Napata. 

Thus Akaf became the first Nap of Napata to remain alive 
until it pleased God to take him in his old age, and when he 
died Far- li- mas succeeded to his throne. With that, however, 
the city of Napata reached the culmination of its fortune and 
the end. For Akaf s renown as a wise and well-advised prince 
had spread abroad, through every land, and every king had 
sent to him men of intelligence, with gifts, to receive the 
benefit of his advice. Great merchants had settled in his capital 
and he had had many great ships upon the seas eastward, 
transporting the products of Napata throughout the world. 
His mines had not been able to yield gold and copper enough 
for the demand. And when he was succeeded by Far-li-mas, 
the fortune of the realm rose even higher, to its climax. The 
fame of Far-li-mas filled every land, from the sea in the east 
to that in the west. And with such fame, there came so much 
envy into men's hearts that, when Far-li-mas died, the neigh- 
boring countries broke their treaties, opening war on the 
kingdom of Napata, and Napata succumbed. Napata was 
destroyed. The empire fell apart. It was overwhelmed by 
savages and barbarians. The gold and copper mines were 
forgotten; the cities disappeared. And nothing remained of 
the great days but the memory of the tales of Far-li-mas— 
which he had brought with him from his own land eastward, 
beyond the sea. 



This, then, is the story of the destruction of the land of 

Kash, the last of whose children now are dwelling in Darfur. 1 

II. A Night of Shehrzad 

Leo Frobenius, to whom we owe the recording and publication 
of this legend from the lips of the old captain of his camel- boys, 
has pointed out that in the Historical Library of the Sicilian an- 
nalist Diodorus Siculus, who visited Egypt between the years 60 
and 57 B.C., there is an account of the practice of ritual regicide 
among the Nubian Kassites of the Upper Nile, in the province 
then known as Meroe-Napata. 2 The priests would send a messenger 
to the king, declaring that the gods had revealed the moment to 
them through an oracle, and the kings, as Diodorus declares, sub- 
mitted to this judgment through superstition. However, Diodorus 
goes on to say, in the period of the Alexandrian pharaoh Ptolemy 
II Philadelphus (309-246 B.C.), the custom was disregarded by 
an Ethiopian monarch named Ergamenes, who had received a 
Greek education. Placing his trust rather in philosophy than in 
religion, and with a courage worthy of the tenant of a throne, 
Ergamenes walked with a body of soldiers into the hitherto 
solemnly feared sanctuary of the Golden Temple, slew the priests 
to a man, discontinued the tradition derived from the awesome 
past, and reorganized things according to his own taste. 3 

Arach-ben-Hassul's tale itself, as Frobenius observes, suggests 
the Arabian Nights, not only in its narrative style and fabulous 
atmosphere but also in its theme. For, as all recall, in the frame 
story of that collection the clever bride, Shehrzad, through her 
fascinating story-telling art rescued from death both herself and 
all the maidens of her generation; whereas here we have the same 
art achieving a like result— rescuing now, however, the king too 
from death, as well as the clever young woman who, like Shehrzad, 
was the instigator of the whole operation. 

The dates of the formation of the main body of the Arabian 
Nights he between the eighth and fourteenth centuries A.D., though 
some of the tales appear to have been composed and added as 
late as the seventeenth century. 4 The period is one to which the 
world owes a great many of its most fascinating wonder tales. 



since it was precisely in those centuries— throughout the Middle 
Ages, that is to say— that the custom of telling stories flourished 
most elegantly in the courts of Europe, India, and Persia, as well 
as in Arabia and Egypt. It must be recognized, therefore, that al- 
though our "Legend of the Destruction of Kash" may indeed be 
founded on some such act as that recorded of Ergamenes in the 
third century B.c., when the humanism of Greece penetrated to 
the sanctuaries of ritual regicide in the Sudanese Upper Nile, the 
incident has been rendered in a style and mood of about the 
tenth century A.D. 

No one who has studied the art of the fairy tale will doubt that 
such a folk- narrator of the twentieth century as Arach-ben-Hassul 
might faithfully communicate not only the plot but even the very 
style of a tale contrived in the Middle Ages. One need only read 
the folktales gathered by Jeremiah Curtin in the west of Ire- 
land in the 1880s 5 and compare them with Standish H. O'Grady's 
translations of the tales of the Fianna and Irish saints from a series 
of fifteenth- century Irish manuscripts 6 to be convinced. The 
ability of traditional story-tellers to hold their precious tales in 
mind to the minutest detail had already been noticed by the 
Brothers Grimm in the course of gathering their German collection. 
"Anyone believing that traditional materials are easily falsified and 
carelessly preserved, and hence cannot survive over a long period, " 
they wrote, "should hear how close the old story-teller always keeps 
to her story and how zealous she is for its accuracy; never does 
she alter any part in repetition, and she corrects a mistake herself, 
immediately she notices it. Among people who follow the old life- 
ways without change, attachment to inherited patterns is stronger 
than we, impatient for variety, can realize." 7 

It is entirely possible, therefore, that our tale of the destruction 
of Kash may stem from the period and genius of the great collec- 
tion of Shehrzad. 

But whence the tales of Shehrzad? 

"The first who composed tales and made books of them," wrote 
the tenth-century Arab historian Ali Abu-1 Hasan ul-Mas'udr 
(d, c. 956 A.D.), "were the Persians. The Arabs translated them 
and the learned took them and composed others like them. The 



first book of the kind made," his account continues, "was that 
called Hazar Afsan ("Thousand Romances"), and its manner 
was on this wise. One of the kings of the Persians was wont, 
whenas he took a woman to wife and had lain one night with her, 
to put her to death on the morrow. Now he married a girl endowed 
with wit and knowledge, by name Shehrzad, and she fell to telling 
him tales and used to join the story, at the end of the night, with 
what should induce the king to spare her alive and question her 
next night of the ending thereof, till a thousand nights had passed 
over her. Meanwhile he lay with her, till he was vouchsafed a 
child by her, when she discovered to him the device she had prac- 
ticed upon him. Her wit pleased him and he inclined to her and 
spared her life." 8 

It is usual to regard the nuclear idea of the Arabian Thousand 
Nights and One Night as Persian, even while recognizing that the 
collection was swollen to its present magnitude through contribu- 
tions largely from Arabian Syria and Iraq, and Arabian Egypt. 
Frobenius, however, adds to this view a new and extremely in- 
teresting hypothesis based on his own collection of stories from 
the Sudan; namely, that there may have been a common source 
from which both the Persian tales and the Sudanese were derived, 
issuing from South Arabia, Hadramaut, that land "beyond the 
Eastern Sea" (the Red Sea) from which the fabulous slave Far-li- 
mas came to the court of the Nap of Napata. 

"Is our Sudanese tale perhaps from an older rendition," Fro- 
benius asks, "not so worn at the edges and over-refined by a series 
of Indian, Persian, and late Egyptian transformations?" 9 

Do we have, that is to say, in this elegant Sudanese narrative and 
in the celebrated Book of a Thousand Nights and One Night two 
variants of a single tradition, stemming from a land now largely a 
wilderness— but a wilderness with the ruins of ancient cities buried 
in its sands— today called properly Arabia deserta, but formerly 
Arabia felix? 

"As we moved slowly along through the Red Sea in the year 
1915," Frobenius wrote in his account of the collection of his tales 
from Kordofan, "and I chatted by the hour with the Arab seamen, 
I learned of an apparently widely spread opinion, which may 



serve to clarify a number of problems in the present context. My 
informants maintained, stoutly and firmly, that all the tales of 
the Arabian Nights had first been told in Hadramaut and from 
there had been diffused over the earth. And the tale that they par- 
ticularly stressed was 'Sindbad the Sailor.' " 10 

The question of the relationship of these two traditions has 
not— as far as I know— been resolved. It leads, however, to a 
second, no less fascinating question, which we are now able to 
answer in detail; and this, too, was proposed by Frobenius. It is 
the question, namely, of a possible historic or prehistoric back- 
ground for this Sudanese Nrghts adventure. Can it be that the tale 
was not a sheer invention, but reflected in the glass of a late story- 
telling style some actual drcumstance of the past? 

The passage from Diodorus speaks for the possibility. More- 
over, in the vast body of material assembled by Sr J ames G. 
Frazer in the twelve volumes of his monumental work The Golden 
Bough, we have evidence enough of the prevalence of a custom 
of ritual regicide throughout a large portion of the archaic world, 
associated^ ust as here— with a pattern of rmtrilineal descent. 
Among the Shilluk of the White Nile (a people now inhabiting 
precisely the region of our tale) the custom of putting their king 
to death prevailed, according to Frazer, until only a few years ago. 
"It is said that the chiefs announce his fate to the king," Frazer 
writes, citing the studies of C. G. Seligman, "and that afterwards 
he is strangled in a hut which has been specially buflt for the 
occasion." u Furthermore, in 1926 new evidence attesting to the 
nature of the destiny of the earliest kings and their courts was un- 
earthed by Sir Leonard Woolley in his excavations of the so-called 
Royal Tombs of Ur, the city of the moon-god of ancient Sumer. 
His grim discovery is described in a later chapter. So, from what 
we now know, it can be said with perfect assurance that in the 
earliest period of the hieratic city state the king and his court were 
ritually immolated at the expiration of a span of years determined 
by the relationship of the planets in the heavens to the moon; 
and that our legend of Kash is, therefore, certainly an echo from 
that very deep well of the past, romantically reflected in a late 
story-teller's art. 



III. The King, and the Virgin of the Vestal Fire 

The gruesome original sense of the relationship of the vestal 
virgin Sali's role— as well as of Shehrzad's in the Arabian Nights — 
to the archaic regicide comes out cruelly the moment we focus 
on the royal rituals traditionally practiced, until recently, in the 

Among the Shilluk, the priests, who were the only ones know- 
ing the will of God (whom they called Nyakang), saw to it that 
the king was killed after a term of seven years, or, if the crops 
or prosperity of the herds failed before that term, even earlier. 
The person of the king was sacred and could be seen by none but 
nobles. Not even his children could enter his dwelling. And when 
he stepped forth, surrounded closely by the nobles, criers sent 
the people flying to their huts. When the time arrived for his 
death, the high priest told the paramount noble, and the latter 
then assembled the members of his own class and apprised them, 
in silence, by a motion of his hand. The mystery had to be con- 
summated on one of the dark nights that fall between the last and 
the first quarters of the moon, in the dry period before the first 
rain, and before the first seeds were sown. The charge was exe- 
cuted by the chief noble himself; none other should hear of it, 
know or speak of it; and there should be no weeping. The king 
was strangled and buried with a living virgin at his side. And, 
when the two bodies had rotted, their bones were gathered into 
the hide of a bull. A year later the new king was named, and on 
his predecessor's grave cattle were speared to death by the hun- 
dred . 12 

Of old, such customs were known to many peoples not only of 
the Upper Nile but of other parts of the Sudan as well; also in 
Mozambique, Angola, and Rhodesia. India and Indonesia too 
knew the rites; in fact, the most vivid example on record of an 
immolation of the sacred king is probably that in Duarte Barbosa's 
Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Be- 
ginning of the Sixteenth Century. 

The god-king of the south Indian province of Quilacare in 
Malabar (an area having a strongly matriarchal tradition to this 



day) had to sacrifice himself at the end of the length of time re- 
quired by the planet J upiter for a circuit of the zodiac and return 
to its moment of retrograde motion in the sign of Cancer— which 
is to say, twelve years. When his time came, the king had a wooden 
scaffolding constructed and spread over with hangings of silk. And 
when he had ritually bathed in a tank, with great ceremonies and 
to the sound of music, he proceeded to the temple, where he paid 
worship to the divinity. Then he mounted the scaffolding and, 
before the people, took some very sharp knives and began to cut 
ofF parts of his body— nose, ears, lips, and all his members, and 
as much of his flesh as he was able— throwing them away and 
round about, until so much of his blood was spilled that he began 
to faint, whereupon he slit his throat . 13 

"The essential motif lies in the timing of the death of the god," 
writes Frobenius in his summary discussion of the archetype of 
the sacral regicide. 

The great god must die; forfeit his fife and be shut up in 
the underworld, within the mountain. The goddess (and let 
us call her Ishtar, using her later Babylonian title) follows 
him into the underworld and after the consummation of his 
self-immolation, releases him. The supreme mystery was cele- 
brated not only in renowned songs, but also in the ancient 
new-year festivals, where it was presented dramatically: and 
this dramatic presentation can be said to represent the acme 
of the manifestation of the grammar and logic of mythology 
in the history of the world. 

The whole idea was realized, furthermore, in a correspond- 
ing organization of the social institutions; the best preserved 
vestiges and echoes of which are to be found in Africa. In- 
deed, the ideas have been found preserved to this day in act, 
in the South African "Eritrean" zone [Mozambique, Angola, 
and Rhodesia]. There, the king representing the great god- 
head even bore the name "Moon"; while his second wife was 
the Moon's beloved, the planet Venus. And when the time 
arrived for the death of the god, the king and his Venus- spouse 
were strangled and their remains placed in a burial cave 
in a mountain, from which they were supposed then to be 
resurrected as the new, or "renewed," heavenly spheres. And 
this, surely, must represent the earliest form of the mythologi- 
cal and ritual context. Already in ancient Babylon it had been 



Prevalence of ritual regicide. After Frobenius 



weakened, in as much as the king at the New Year Festival 
in the temple was only stripped of his garments, humiliated, 
and struck, while in the marketplace a substitute, who had 
been ceremonially installed in all glory, was delivered to death 
by the noose. . . . 

"It now seems clear," Frobenius then suggests, "that this con- 
stellation of ideas and customs sprang from the region between 
the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf and spread thence southeastward 
into India in the Dravidian culture sphere, as well as southwest- 
ward across South Arabia into East Africa. " 14 

There is reason to believe, therefore, that the tales both of the 
king's sister- in- death, Sali, and of Shehrzad, the king's bride who 
was to have died on her wedding night, must be echoes of a dim, 
dark past that was, after all, neither so dim nor dark in the 
memory of the world in which the tales were told. And we must 
regard it as likely, too, that whenever a king subordinate to a 
council of priestly dictators of the kingly destiny is found at the 
head of an apparently primitive tribe, the culture in question can- 
not be primitive exactly, but rather regressed. Its idea of correct- 
ing (in Plato's words, quoted earlier) "those circuits in the head 
that were deranged at birth by learning to know the harmonies and 
revolutions of the world" and thereby winning "the best in life 
set by the gods before mankind both for this present time and for 
the life to come," must have been derived, ultimately, from that 
high center of the idea of the hieratic city state that we considered 
at the conclusion of our last chapter. 

Yet there is a deeper level of ritual human sacrifice to be con- 
sidered-associated not with kings and the heavens, but with 
simple villagers and their food- plants, in the far-reaching culture 
province of the tropical gardens; and this may, indeed, be primi- 
tive. Before descending to that stratum, however, let us pause to 
attend the ritual of the kindling of the new fire, to which the vestal 
virgin Sali had been assigned. 

A comparison of the rites of the numerous African tribes among 
whom the mystery has been lately practiced or recalled (for ex- 
ample, the Mundang, Haussa, Gwari, Nupe, and Mossi of the 
Sudan; Yoruba of Nigeria; and, in the south, the Ruanda, Wasegue, 



Wadoe, Wawemba, Walumbwe, Wahemba, Mambwo, Lunda, 
Kanioka, Bangala, and Bihe) reveals that when the king v\os dead 
all the fires in his domain were extinguished, and that during the 
period of no rule, between his death and the installation of his suc- 
cessor, there was no holy fire. The latter was ritually rekindled by 
a designated pubescent boy and virgin, who were required to ap- 
pear completely naked before the new king, the court, and the 
people, with their fire-sticks; the two sticks bang known, respec- 
tively, as the male (the twirling stick) and the female (the base). 
The two young people had to make the new fire and then perform 
that other, symbolically analogous act, their first copulation; after 
which they were tossed into a prepared trench, while a shout went 
up to drown their cries, and quickly buried alive . 15 

We are entering indeed, the realm of King Death, the Great 
Chief Death. 

Chapter 5 


I. The Descent and Return of the Maiden 

A rite similar in conception to that of the young couple of the 
vestal fire, though functioning in the context of a more primitive 
mythology, is reported from the opposite margin of the Indian 
Ocean zone, seven or eight thousand miles from East Africa and 
the Sudan, among the Marind-anim of Dutch South New Guinea. 
The Swiss ethnologist Paul Wirz, in a two-volume work on the 
myths and customs of these head- hunting cannibals , 1 tells of their 
gods— the Dema— who appear in the ceremonies, fabulously cos- 
tumed, to enact again (or rather, not "again," because time col- 
lapses in "ceremonial time" and what was "then" becomes "now") 
the world-fashioning events of the "time of the beginning of the 
world. " The rites are performed to the tireless chant of many voices, 
the boom of slit-log drums, and the whirring of the bull-roarers, 
which are the voices of the Dema themselves, rising from the 
earth. The ceremonies continue for many nights, many days, uniting 
the villagers in a fused being that is not biological, essentially, but 
a living spirit— with numerous heads, many eyes, many voices, 
numerous feet pounding the earth— lifted even out of temporality 
and translated into the no-place, no-time, no-when, no-where of 
the mythological age, which is here and now. 

The particular moment of importance to our story occurs at 
the conclusion of one of the boys' puberty rites, which terminates 
in a sexual orgy of several days and nights, during which everyone 
in the village except the initiates makes free with everybody else, 
amid the tumult of the mythological chants, drums, and the bull- 




roarers— until the final night, when a fine young girl, painted, 
oiled, and ceremonially costumed, is led into the dancing ground 
and made to lie beneath a platform of very heavy logs. With her, 
in open view of the festival, the initiates cohabit, one after another; 
and while the youth chosen to be last is embracing her the sup- 
ports of the logs above are jerked away and the platform drops, 
to a prodigious boom of drums. A hideous howl goes up and the 
dead girl and boy are dragged from the logs, cut up, roasted, and 
eaten. 2 

But what can be the sense of such a cruel game? And who are 
this annihilated girl and boy? What is the background of such rites, 
which are not frequent merely, but typical among the cannibal 
gardeners of the widely dispersed, equatorial villages? 

As Professor Adolf Jensen of Frankfurt has pointed out, de- 
veloping the broadly reaching cross-cultural theory first announced 
by Leo Frobenius in 1895-97, these rites are but the renditions 
in act of a mythology inspired by the model of death and life in 
the plant world. And they are the basal sacrament of a precisely 
definable prehistoric culture stratum still represented in tropical 
Africa and America, as well as in India, Indonesia, and Oceania. 
The unity of the broken field has not been explained; nor is it 
easy to imagine how it should be. Yet neither was it easy to under- 
stand the distribution of the animal known as the tapir (which is 
found both in the Malay region and in South and Central America, 
but nowhere between) until fossil forms in Miocene, Pliocene, and 
Pleistocene formations were found in Europe, China, and the 
United States of America, which made possible a reconstruction 
of the history of the animal's diffusion. No biologist, previous to 
the discovery of these fossils, would have dreamed of suggesting 
that the New and Old World tapirs might have developed separately 
through parallel lines of evolution. And in the field of comparative 
mythology too, perhaps, it would be well not to formulate "scien- 
tific" conclusions before a full accounting is made. 

The contemporary representatives of the prehistoric culture 
stratum of the cannibal gardeners dwell in tropical, usually jungle 
regions, sparsely populated, where the natural abundance of the 
plant world affords a convenient supply of food: coconuts, the pith 



of the sago palm, bananas and other fruits, and in California a 
variety of acorn. In addition, there is generally practiced an orderly, 
and often highly ritualized, cultivation of tubers: yams, for ex- 
ample, taro, and the sweet potato (rice and the other grains be- 
longing, almost certainly, to a later stratum of culture). In gen- 
eral, the architecture is elaborately developed, usually set on piles, 
and frequently includes gigantic structures (two hundred yards 
or more in length) sheltering whole communities— which may 
number as many as a hundred persons. Bamboo is prominent and 
variously used. Among the beasts domesticated are the dog, the 
chicken (turkey, in America), and often the pig (throughout 
Melanesia and Indonesia) or the goat (in Africa). The arts of 
metalwork, weaving, and usually pottery are unknown, though 
imports of these goods are highly prized. And politically there are 
no great state confederations, kings, professional priests, or sig- 
nificant differentiations of labor (except, of course, along sexual 
lines); while the village as a cult community usually ranks higher 
than any tribal organization. 

The prehistoric period to which the development of this par- 
ticular style of life and thought should be assigned cannot be pre- 
cisely identified. The archaeology of the problem is vague and 
has not been pressed very far. The characteristic artifacts are of 
extremely perishable materials: bamboo, pandanus leaves, shell 
and bone, feathers, palm fronds and logs, withies and beaten 
bark. Furthermore, the greater part of the region occupied has 
been the home of man for at least half a million years: the bones 
of Pithecanthropus erectus (c. 400,000 B.C.) were turned up in 
Java, and in Africa even earlier remains have been found in 
abundance. The cultural life of the area stands, indeed, as a kind 
of enduring though vanishing counterpoise to the more durably 
registered stone and metal ages of the temperate north. It is a 
culture- world in which the forms endure but not the materials in 
which they are rendered, whereas in the world of stone tools and 
metal it is the materials that last. The prehistoric origin of this 
primitive gardening syndrome must float enigmatically, therefore, 
in a loose relationship to the comparatively firm schedule of our 
various paleolithic, mesolithic, and neolithic ages. Jensen is in- 



dined to refer it to the early neolithic, or perhaps even one step 
back, to the mesolithic. And if his view is correct, we are viewing 
here a form of culture not far removed, in time of origin, from 
the Proto- Neolithic villages of the Near East. 

It was in the course of an expedition to West Ceram (the next 
major island westward of New Guinea) that Professor Jensen 
discovered the myth that I present here as our first example from 
this cannibalistic culture stratum: that of the maiden Hainuwele, 
whose name means "Frond of the Cocopalm," and who is one of 
three virgin Dema, highly revered among the tribes of West Ceram. 
The myth is this: 

Nine families of mankind came forth in the beginning 
from Mount Nunusaku, where the people had emerged from 
dusters of bananas. And these families stopped in West 
Ceram, at a place known as the "Nine Dance Grounds," 
which is in the jungle between Ahiolo and Varoloin. 

Now there was a man among them whose name was Ameta, 
meaning "Dark," "Black," or "Night"; and neither was he 
married nor had he children. He went off, one day, hunting 
with his dog. And after a little, the dog smelt a wild pig, 
which it traced to a pond into which the animal took flight; 
but the dog remained on the shore. And the pig, swimming, 
grew tired and drowned, but the man, who had arrived 
meanwhile, retrieved it. And he found a coconut on its tusk, 
though at that time there were no cocopalms in the world. 

Returning to his hut, Ameta placed the nut on a stand and 
covered it with a doth bearing a snake design, then lay down 
to sleep. And in the night there appeared to him the figure 
of a man, who said: "The coconut that you placed upon the 
stand and covered with a doth you must plant in the earth; 
otherwise it won't grow." So Ameta planted the coconut the 
next morning, and in three days the palm was tall. Again 
three days and it was bearing blossoms. He dimbed the tree 
to cut the blossoms, from which he wished to prepare himself 
a drink, but as he cut he slashed his finger and the blood fell 
on a leaf. He returned home to bandage his finger and in 
three days came back to the palm to find that where the blood 
on the leaf had mingled with the sap of the cut blossom the 
face of someone had appeared. Three days later, the trunk 
of the person was there, and when he returned again in three 
days he found that a little girl had developed from his drop 



of blood. That night the same figure of a man appeared to 
him in dream. "Take your cloth with the snake design," he 
said, "wrap the girl of the cocopalm in the cloth carefully, 
and carry her home." 

So the next morning Ameta went with his cloth to the 
cocopalm, climbed the tree, and carefully wrapped up the 
little girl. He descended cautiously, took her home, and 
named her Hainuwele. She grew quickly and in three days 
was a nubile maiden. But she was not like an ordinary person; 
for when she would answer the call of nature her excrement 
consisted of all sorts of valuable articles, such as Chinese 
dishes and gongs, so that her father became very rich. 

And about that time there was to be celebrated in the place 
of the Nine Dance Grounds a great Maro Dance, which was 
to last nine full nights, and the nine families of mankind were 
to participate. Now when the people dance the Maro, the 
women sit in the center and from there reach betel nut to the 
men, who form, in dancing, a large ninefold spiral. Hainuwele 
stood in the center at this Maro festival, passing out betel nut 
to the men. And at dawn, when the performance ended, all 
went home to sleep. 

The second night, the nine families of mankind assembled 
on the second ground; for when the Maro is celebrated it must 
be performed each night in a different place. And once again, 
it was Hainuwele who was placed in the center to reach 
betel nut to the dancers; but when they asked for it she gave 
them coral instead, which they all found very nice. The danc- 
ers and the others, too, then began pressing in to ask for 
betel and she gave them coral. And so the performance con- 
tinued until dawn, when they all went home to sleep. 

The next night the dance was resumed on a third ground, 
with Hainuwele again in the center; but this time she gave 
beautiful Chinese porcelain dishes, and everyone present re- 
ceived such a dish. The fourth night she gave bigger porcelain 
dishes and the fifth, great bush knives; the sixth, beautifully 
worked betel boxes of copper; the seventh, golden earrings; 
and the eighth, glorious gongs. The value of the articles in- 
creased, that way, from night to night, and the people thought 
this thing mysterious. They came together and discussed the 

They were all extremely jealous that Hainuwele could dis- 
tribute such wealth and decided to kill her. The ninth night, 
therefore, when the girl was again placed in the center of 
the dance ground, to pass out betel nut, the men dug a deep 



hole in the area. In the innermost circle of the great ninefold 
spiral the men of the Lesiela family were dancing, and in the 
course of the slowly cycling movement of their spiral they 
pressed the maiden Hainuwele toward the hole and threw 
her in. A loud, three voiced Maro Song drowned out her cries. 
They covered her guickly with earth, and the dancers tram- 
pled this down firmly with their steps. They danced on till 
dawn, when the festival ended and the people returned to 
their huts. 

But when the Maro festival ended and Hainuwele failed 
to return, her father knew that she had been killed. He took 
nine branches of a certain bushlike plant whose wood is used 
in the casting of oracles and with these reconstructed in his 
home the nine circles of the Maro Dancers. Then he knew that 
Hainuwele had been killed in the Dancing Ground. He took 
nine libers of the cocopalm leaf and went with these to 
the dance place, stuck them one after the other into the earth, 
and with the ninth came to what had been the innermost cir- 
cle. When he stuck the ninth fiber into the earth and drew it 
forth, on it were some of the hairs and blood of Hainuwele. 
He dug up the corpse and cut it into many pieces, which he 
buried in the whole area about the Dancing Ground— except 
for the two arms, which he carried to the maiden Satene: 
the second of the supreme Dema- virgins of West Ceram. At 
the time of the coming into being of mankind Satene had 
emerged from an unripe banana, whereas the rest had come 
from ripe bananas; and she now was the ruler of them all. But 
the buried portions of Hainuwele, meanwhile, were already 
turning into things that up to that time had never existed any- 
where on earth— above all, certain tuberous plants that have 
been the principal food of the people ever since. 

Ameta cursed mankind and the maiden Satene was furious 
at the people for having killed. So she built on one of the 
dance grounds a great gate, consisting of a ninefold spiral, 
like the one formed by the men in the dance; and she stood 
on a great log inside this gate, holding in her two hands the 
two arms of Hainuwele. Then, summoning the people, she 
said to them: "Because you have killed, I refuse to live here 
any more: today I shall leave. And so now you must all try to 
come to me through this gate. Those who succeed will remain 
people, but to those who fail something else will happen." 

They tried to come through the spiral gate, but not all suc- 
ceeded, and everyone who failed was turned into either an 
animal or a spirit. That is how it came about that pigs, deer. 



birds, fish, and many spirits inhabit the earth. Before that 
time there had been only people. Those, however, who came 
through walked to Satene; some to the right of the log on 
which she was standing, others to the left; and as each passed 
she struck him with one of Hainuwele's arms. Those going 
left had to jump across five sticks of bamboo, those to the 
right, across nine, and from these two groups, respectively, 
were derived the tribes known as the Fivers and the Niners. 
Satene said to them: "I am departing today and you will see 
me no more on earth. Only when you die will you again see 
me. Yet even then you shall have to accomplish a very diffi- 
cult journey before you attain me." 

And with that, she disappeared from the earth: She now 
dwells on the mountain of the dead, in the southern part of 
West Ceram, and whoever desires to go to her must die. But 
the way to her mountain leads over eight other mountains. 
And ever since that day there have been not only men but 
spirits and animals on earth, while the tribes of men have been 
divided into the Fivers and the Niners . 3 

A related myth tells of the remaining divine maiden, Rabia, who 
was desired in marriage by the sun-man Tuwale. But when her 
parents placed a dead pig in her place in the bridal bed, Tuwale 
claimed his bride in a strangely violent manner, causing her to 
sink into the earth among the roots of a tree. The efforts of the 
people to save her were in vain: they could not prevent her from 
sinking even deeper. And when she had gone down as far as to 
the neck, she called to her mother: "It is Tuwale, the sun-man, 
who has come to claim me. Slaughter a pig and celebrate a feast; 
for I am dying. But in three days, when evening comes, look 
up at the sky, where I shall be shining upon you as a light." That 
was how the moon-maiden Rabia instituted the death feast. And 
when her relatives had killed the pig and celebrated the death 
feast for three days, they saw for the first time the moon, rising 
in the east . 4 

II. The Mythological Event 

The leading theme of the primitive-village mythology of the 
Dema is the coming of death into the world, and the particular 
point is that death comes by way of a murder. The second point is 



that the plants on which man lives derive from this death. The 
world lives on death: that is the insight rendered dramatically in 
this image. Moreover, as we learn from other myths and mytho- 
logical fragments in this culture sphere, the sexual organs are sup- 
posed to have appeared at the time of this coming of death. Repro- 
duction without death would be a calamity, as would death with- 
out reproduction. 

We may say, then, that the interdependence of death and sex, 
their import as the complementary aspects of a single state of 
being, and the necessity of killing— killing and eating— for the 
continuance of this state of being, which is that of man on earth, 
and of all things on earth, the animals, birds, and fish, as well as 
man— this deeply moving, emotionally disturbing glimpse of death 
as the life of the living is the fundamental motivation supporting 
the rites around which the social structure of the early planting 
villages was composed. 

As Professor Jensen has observed, "Killing holds a place of 
paramount significance in the way of life both of animals and of 
men. Every day men must kill, to maintain life. They kill animals, 
and, apparently, in the culture here being considered the harvest- 
ing of plants also was regarded— quite correctly— as a killing. . . . 
"In this culture," he continues, 

killing is not an act of heroism, conceived in a spirit of war- 
like manliness. All of the details of the headhunt speak to 
the contrary. In fact, if the actions of the headhunter were 
to be judged by heroic standards we should have to call him 
a coward. Nor, on the other hand, is either the mythological 
first killing that was perpetrated on the holy moon- being or 
the repetition of that killing in the cult— whether in the vil- 
lage ceremonials or in the actions of the headhunt— "mur- 
der," in the sense of a criminal act meriting punishment, as 
Cain's slaying of Abel would appear to have been. It is true 
that the first killing brought about a complete transformation 
of human life in the time of the beginning, and that in the 
myths this is occasionally represented in terms of a crime and 
its punishment: for, psychologically, a certain sense of guilt 
cannot be separated from the act of killing, any more than 
from that of begetting. Yet the mere fact that a repetition of 



the deed is a sacred obligation placed upon mankind makes 
it impossible to call it murder in the lull sense of the word. 
Guilt and heroism do indeed appear in some of the mytho- 
logical representations of the episodes, but are certainly not 
essential to the basic context— which cannot but have been 
much more elementary. The closest analogy is to be found, 
according to my opinion [he then suggests], in the world of 
the beasts of prey. We do not think either of heroism or of 
murder when considering their manner of killing, but only 
of the primal force of nature. And there is actually an indi- 
cation of this parallelism in the appearance of spirits resem- 
bling beasts of prey in the ceremonies of the men's secret 
societies and puberty rites, as well as in the express statement 
of the people of West Ceram that they derived their ritual of 
the headhunt from a bird of prey. 

But all of this touches only the problem of the psychologi- 
cal attitude toward killing. That killing should have assumed 
such a prominent position in the total view of the world in 
this culture sphere, I should like to refer quite specifically to 
the occupation of these people with the world of the plants. 
There was here revealed to mankind, in some measure, a new 
field of illumination. For the plants were continually being 
killed through the gathering of their fruits, yet the death was 
extraordinarily quickly overcome by their new life. Thus there 
was made available to man a synthesizing insight, relating his 
own destiny to that of the animals, the plants, and the moon . 5 

And so, once again, as in the instance of the cosmic imagery 
of the hieratic city state, we have an intellectual, emotionally toned 
insight as the fundamental inspiration of a cult that became basic to 
a sociology. There is no way, in sheerly economic terms, to ac- 
count for the phenomenology of a primitive social system in which 
a tremendous proportion of the time and energy is given to activities 
of an elaborate ritual nature. The rites are expected to afford 
economic well-being and social harmony; that is true. Yet their 
inception cannot be attributed to an economic insight, or even to 
a social need. Groups of a hundred souls or so do not require the 
murder of their own finest sons and daughters to enable them to 
cohere. This flowering of rites derived from a cosmic insight— and 
one of such force that the whole sense, the formal structuring 


principle of the universe, seemed for a certain period of human 
history to have been caught in it. 

The rites were representations of this accord, in a way com- 
parable to those formulae of modem physics through which the 
modes of operation of inscrutable cosmic forces become not only 
accessible to the mind but also susceptible to control. They function 
both for man's enlightenment and for the furtherance of his aims. 
They are physical formulae; written, however, not in the black on 
white of, say, an E = me 2 , but in human flesh. And the in- 
dividuals rendering it are not individuals any more but epiphanies 
of a cosmic mystery and, as such, taboo— hence ceremonially deco- 
rated, and symbolically, not humanly, regarded and treated. 

The harmony and well-being of the community, its coordination 
with the harmony and ultimate nature of the cosmos of which it 
is a part, and the integration of the individual, in his thought, 
feeling, and personal desires, with the sense and essential force of 
this universal circumstance, can be said, therefore, to be the 
fundamental aim and nature of the ceremonial. And in a society 
of the sort here being considered everyone is more or less deeply 
implicated in the context of the ceremonial in every moment and 
phase of his life. 

Let us say, then, to summarize, that a mythology is an organiza- 
tion of images conceived as a rendition of the sense of life, and that 
this sense is to be apprehended in two ways, namely: 1) the way 
of thought, and 2) the way of experience. As thought mythology 
approaches— or is a primitive prelude to— science; and as ex- 
perience it is precisely art. 

Furthermore, the mythological image, the mythological formula, 
is rendered present, here and now, in the rite. Just as the written 
formula, E = me 2 , here on this page, is not merely a reference 
to the formula that Dr. Einstein wrote on another piece of paper 
somewhere else, but actually that formula itself, so likewise are the 
motifs of the rite experienced not as references but as presences. 
They render visible the mythological age itself. For the festival is 
an extension into the present of the world- creating mythological 
event through which the force of the ancestors (those eternal ones 



of the dream) * became discharged into the rolling run of time, 
and where what then was ever present in the form of a holy being 
without change now dies and reappears, dies and reappears— like 
the moon, like the yam, like our animal food, or like the race. 

The divine being (the Dema) has become flesh in the living 
food- substance of the world: which is to say, in all of us, since 
all of us are to become, in the end, food for other beings. This 
is the nuclear idea of the killed Dema, who is the source of our 
good and of our food. A number of infantile motifs have been 
enlisted in the rendition, but the idea itself cannot be called in- 
fantile. It is, in fact, a new insight, fostering not a return to 
infancy but a willed affirmation of man's fate and of the ruthless 
nature of being, to which we, today, with our much more sensitive, 
humanized, and humanistic responses of revulsion, may be said 
to be reacting in the more childish way. The qualm before the deed 
of life— which is that of dealing death— is precisely the human 
crisis here overcome. The beast of prey deals death without 
knowledge. Man, however, has knowledge, and must overcome it 
to live. Among the primitive hunting societies the way was to 
deny death, the reality of death, and to go on killing as willing 
victims the animals that one required and revered. But in the 
planting societies a new insight or solution was opened by the 
lesson of the plant world itself, which is linked somehow to the 
moon, which also dies and is resurrected and moreover influences, 
in some mysterious way still unknown, the lunar cycle of the womb. 

Through modem science mythology has been refuted in prac- 
tically all its details; yet in its primary insight into the presence and 
operation of common laws throughout the fabric of the universe- 
laws including human life as well as the kingdoms of the animals, 
plants, and heavenly spheres— it announced not only the main 
theme but also the chief source of the fascination of science, and 
perhaps of life itself. Moreover, when the will of the individual to 
his own immortality has been extinguished— as it is in rites such as 
these— through an effective realization of the immortality of being 
itself and of its play through all things, he is united with that being, 
in experience, in a stunning crisis of release from the psychology of 

* Supra, p. 88. 



guilt and mortality. Among the tropical planters the rendition of 
this fundamentally religious experience was effected through rites 
of the kind that we have observed. 

And I think it may be said that if one of the chief problems of 
man, philosophically, is that of becoming reconciled, in feeling as 
well as in thought, to the monstrosity of the just-so of the world, 
no more telling initiatory lesson than that of these rites could have 
been imagined. As Professor J ensen has pointed out, the number 
of lives offered up in such rites is far less, proportionately to the 
population, than that sacrificed in our own cities in traffic accidents. 
However, among ourselves such deaths are thought of and ex- 
perienced generally as a consequence of human fallibility, even 
though their incidence is statistically predictable. In the primitive 
ritual, on the other hand, which is based on the viewpoint of the 
species rather than on that of the individual, what for us is "ac- 
cident" is placed in the center of the system— namely, sudden, 
monstrous death— and this becomes therewith a revelation of the 
inhumanity of the order of the universe. And in addition, what is 
thus revealed is not simply the monstrosity of the just-so of the 
world, but this just-so as a higher reality than that normally sensed 
by our unalerted faculties: a god-willed monstrosity in being, and 
retaining its form of being only because a divinity (a Dema) is 
actualizing itself in the entire display . 6 

Mythology, we may conclude, therefore, is a verification and 
validation of the well-known— as monstrous. It is conceived, 
finally, not as a reference either to history or to the world- texture 
analyzed by science, but as an epiphany of the monstrosity and 
wonder of these; so that both they and therewith ourselves may be 
experienced in depth. 

And in the sacrifices through which the major themes of such 
a mythology are made manifest and present there is no sense of do 
ut des: "I give that thou mayest give." These are not gifts, bribes, 
or dues rendered to God, but fresh enactments, here and now, of 
the god's own sacrifice in the beginning, through which he, she, or 
it became incarnate in the world process. Moreover, all the ritual 
acts around which the village community is organized, and through 
which its identity is maintained, are functions and partial revela- 



tions of this immortal sacrifice. And finally, it would seem 
evident that something of this primitive yet profoundly conceived 
mythology must underlie the larger, celestially oriented constel- 
lation that we have already noted in our view of the hieratic city 

In a mythologically oriented primitive society, such as those of 
the Marind-anim and West Ceramese, every aspect of life and of 
the world is finked organically to the pivotal insight rendered in the 
mythology and rituals of the age of the Dema. Those pre- sexual, 
pre-mortal ancestral beings of the mythological narrative lived the 
idyl of the beginning, an age when all things were innocent of the 
destiny of life in time. But there occurred in that age an event, the 
"mythological event" par excellence, which brought to an end its 
timeless way of being and effected a transformation of all things. 
Whereupon death and sex came into the world as the basic cor- 
relates of temporality. 

Furthermore— and in contrast to our contemporary evolutionary 
view of the unfolding of forms in time— the mythological notion 
was of a single, unique, and critical moment of definitive precipita- 
tion at the close of the paradisial age and opening of the present, 
when all things were given precisely the forms in which we see 
them today: the animals, the fish, the birds, and the plants in their 
various species, as well as the spirits and the ritual customs of the 
group. In the Book of Genesis we find much the same idea. But 
in the primitive version of the mythological event (which is 
represented in the Book of Genesis in inverted order, Cain's 
murder of Abel following, instead of preceding, our first parents' 
eating of the fruit) one does not feel that mankind was cut ofF as 
a result of the killing of the Dema Hainuwele. On the contrary, 
the Dema, through man's act of violence, was made the very sub- 
stance of his life. 

Something of the sort can be felt in the Christian myth of the 
killed, buried, resurrected, and eaten J esus, whose mystery is the 
ritual of the altar and communion rail. But here the ultimate 
monstrosity of the divine drama is not stressed so much as the 
guilt of man in having brought it about; and we are asked to look 
forward to a last day, when the run of this cosmic tragedy of crime 



and punishment will be terminated and the kingdom of God 
realized on earth, as it is now in heaven. The Greek rendition of 
the mythology, on the other hand, remains doser to the primitive 
view, according to which there is to be no end, or even essential 
improvement, for this tragedy (as it will seem to some) or play 
(as it appears to the gods). The sense of it all— or rather, non- 
sense of it all— is to be made evident forever in the festivals and 
monstrous customs of the community itself; but is evident also — 
and forever— in every part and moment of the universe, for those 
who have been taught by way of the rites to see and to know the 
world as it truly is. 

III. Persephone 

The number of details shared by the Greek mythology of 
Demeter, Hekate, and Persephone with the Indonesian myths and 
rites of Satene, Rabia, and Hainuwele is too great to have been 
the consequence either of chance or of what Sir J ames G. Frazer 
has plausibly called "the efFect of similar causes acting on the 
similar constitution of the human mind in different countries and 
under different skies. 1 ' 7 Like her child, the killed and eaten yet 
resurrected god of bread and wine, Dionysos (whose mythology 
we have already compared with the boys' rites of Central 
Australia),* Persephone— who was known also as Kore, "the 
maiden"— was conceived of Zeus. Her mother was Demeter, the 
Cretan goddess of agriculture and the fruitful soil. And the maiden 
was playing, we are told, 8 in a meadow, culling flowers with the 
daughters of Okeanos, god of the all-embracing sea, when she 
spied a glorious plant with a hundred blossoms spreading its 
fragrance all about, which had been sent up expressly to seduce 
her by the goddess Earth (Gaia), at the behest of Hades, the lord 
of the underworld. So that when she hurried to pluck its flowers 
the earth gaped and a great god appeared in a chariot of gold, 
who carried her down into his abyss despite her cries. The god 
was Hades, lord of the underworld, and in the land of the dead 
she became his queen. 

Persephone's cries had been heard only by Demeter, her 

*Cf. supra, pp. 100-102. 



mother, and Hekate, a goddess of the moon. But when the mother, 
bereaved, sought to trace her daughter, she found that her foot- 
prints had been obliterated by those of a pig. For it had chanced— 
most curiously— that at the time of Persephone's abduction a herd 
of pigs had been rooting in the neighborhood; and the swineherd's 
name, Eubouleus, means "the giver of good counsel" and was in 
earlier times an appellation of the god of the underworld himself. 
Furthermore, when the earth opened to receive Persephone those 
pigs fell into the chasm too, and that, we are told, is why pigs 
play such a role in the rites of Demeter and Persephone. "Origi- 
nally, we may conjecture," Frazer comments in his discussion of 
this matter, "the footprints of the pig were the footprints of 
Persephone and of Demeter herself." 9 

In a festival celebrated in memory of the sorrows— and later 
joy— of Demeter and Persephone, suckling pigs were offered in a 
manner suggestive not only of an earlier human sacrifice but of one 
precisely of the gruesome kind that we have observed in Africa 
and among the Marind-anim of Melanesia. The Greek festival, 
called Thesmophoria, was exclusively for women, and, as Jane 
Harrison has demonstrated in her Prolegomena to the Study of 
Greek Religion , 10 such women's rites in Greece were pre-Homeric; 
that is to say, survivals of the earlier, so-called Pelasgian period, 
when the hieratic bronze- age civilizations of Crete and Troy were 
in full flower and the warrior gods, Zeus and Apollo, of the later 
patriarchal Greeks had not yet arrived to reduce the power of 
the great goddess. The women fasted for nine days in memory of 
the nine days of sorrow of Demeter as she wandered over the 
earth, holding a long, staff-like torch in either hand. Demeter met 
the moon-goddess Hekate, and together they proceeded to the 
sun- god, Phoebus, who had seen the maid abducted and could tell 
them where she was; after which Demeter, in wrath and grief, quit 
the world of the gods. As an old woman, heavily veiled, she sat 
for days by a well known as the Well of the Virgin. She served 
as nurse in a kingly household near Eleusis, which city then be- 
came the greatest sanctuary of her rites in Greece. And she cursed 
the earth to bear no fruit, either for man or for the gods, for a 
full year— until, when Zeus and all the deities of Olympus had 



come to her in vain, one after another, begging her to relent, Zeus 
at last caused Persephone to be released. She had eaten, however, 
a seed of the pomegranate in the world below and, as a con- 
sequence, would now have to spend one- third of each year with 
Hades. Embraced and accompanied by both her mother and the 
goddess Hekate, she returned to Olympus in glory, and, as though 
by magic, the fields were covered again with flowers and the life- 
giving grain. 

The seed-time festival of the Thesmophoria lasted three days, 
and the first day was named the Kathodos (downgoing) and 
Anodos (upcoming), the second Nesteia (fasting), and the last 
Kalligeneia (fair-bom or fair-birth); and it was during the first 
day that the suckling pigs were thrown, probably alive, into an 
underground chamber called a megara, where they were left to 
rot for a year, the bones from the year before being carried up to 
the earth again and placed upon an altar. Figures of serpents and 
human beings made of flour and wheat were also thrown into the 
chasm, or "chamber," at this time. "And they say," writes the 
ancient author to whom we owe our knowledge of this matter , 11 
"that in and about the chasms are snakes which consume the most 
part of what is thrown in; hence a rattling din is made when the 
women draw up the remains and when they replace the remains 
by those well-known images, in order that the snakes which they 
hold to be the guardians of the sanctuaries may go away." 

The rites were secret; hence little has been told of them. How- 
ever, in the widely celebrated and extremely influential mysteries 
of Eleusis, where the Kathodos- and- Anodos of the maiden 
Persephone was again the central theme, pigs were again important 
offerings. And there, moreover, a new motif appeared; for the 
culminating episode in the holy pageant performed in the "hall of 
the mystics" at Eleusis, representing the sorrows of Demeter and 
the ultimate Anodos or return of the maiden, was the showing of 
an ear of grain: "that great and marvelous mystery of perfect 
revelation, a cut stalk of grain, " as the early Christian bishop Hip- 
polytus described it 12 — forgetting for the nonce, apparently, that 
the culminating revelation of his own holy mass was a lifted wafer 
of bread made of the same grain. 


What could have been the meaning of such a simple act as the 
lifting of a cut stalk of grain? 

What is the meaning of the elevated host of the mass? 

As in the play- logic, or dream- logic, of any traditional religious 
pageant, the sacred object is to be identified, at least for the moment 
of the ceremony, with the god. The cut stalk is the returned 
Persephone, who was dead but now liveth, in the grain itself. 

A bronze gong was struck at this moment, a young priestess 
representing Kore herself appeared, and the pageant terminated 
with a paean of joy. 13 

Between the primitive Indonesian cycle and this cherished, 
highly regarded classical mystery, through which the Greek 
initiate learned (as a grave- inscription lets us know) that "death 
was not an evil, but a blessing," 14 the range of accord includes 
not only a number of surprisingly minute details, but also every 
one of the major themes. In fact, at every turn a fresh constellation 
of correspondences appears. 

At the heart of both mythologies there is a trinity of goddesses 
identified with the local food plants, the pig, the underworld, and 
the moon, whose rites insure both a growth of the plants and a 
passage of the soul to the land of the dead. In both the marriage 
of the maiden goddess or Dema is equivalent to her death, which 
is imaged as a descent into the earth and is followed, after a time, 
by her metamorphosis into food: in the primitive cycle, the yam; 
in the classical, the grain. The women of the Greek Thesmophoria, 
furthermore, placed figures of flour and wheat, representing snakes 
and human beings, in the megara, together with the pigs; the pigs 
being left until the flesh rotted, when their bones were brought up 
and revered as relics, while the figures of wheat were consumed 
by snakes. And a clatter of noise, rationalized as a ruse to drive 
away the serpents, accompanied the placement of the pigs and 
cakes underground. 

The ritual is related, trait by trait, to that of the youths and 
maidens murdered amid an uproar of drums, but has been revised 
to accord with the new attitude toward human sacrifice that in "The 
Legend of the Destruction of Kash" was seen to have reached 
from Greece even to the Sudan, by way of the long finger of the 



Nile. Frazer, in The Golden Bough, supplies many instances of 
substitutions of just this kind, and shows, moreover, that cakes in 
human form have been sacramentally consumed at planting and 
harvest festivals wherever grain has been ground into flour and 
baked . 15 So that, in addition to the rest, it would now appear that 
the sacramental cannibalistic meal must have been, at one time, 
still another element common to the two cycles. 

But why, along with the little pigs and the cakes in human 
form, were there also cakes in the form of a serpent? Why not 
living serpents? Or why not pigs of flour? 

Greek mythology knew many stories of the maiden given to the 
serpent— or saved by a timely heroic appearance. For example, 
when Perseus, flying back on his winged sandals from his conquest 
of Medusa, was speeding through the air over Ethiopia, he spied, 
below, a lovely princess chained by her arms to a rough diff 
beside the sea; "and save that her hair gently stirred in the breeze," 
we read in Ovid's account of the event, "and that warm tears were 
trickling down her cheeks, he would have thought her a marble 
statue ." 16 There came, however, a loud roar from the sea, a 
monstrous serpent loomed, breasting the waves, and the princess 
shrieked. But when the great beast, coming toward the maiden like 
a swift ship, was as far from the diff as the space through which 
a Balearic sling can send its whizzing bullet, lo! like an eagle 
Perseus swooped down with his sword and there ensued a pro- 
digious tumult— the monster rearing, striking, plunging, and belch- 
ing water mixed with purple blood, until the sword dealt, finally, 
the blow of the matador and the serpent died. 

The name of this rescued princess was Andromeda, and her 
kingly father, Cepheus, governed Ethiopia, which, as we know 
from "The Legend of the Destruction of Kash," was the kingdom 
eastward of Napata, not far from the seat of the rescue of the 
maiden Sali by the magic of the tongue of Far- li- mas; or from 
the villages of the present Shilluk of the upper Nile, whose kings 
were ceremonially strangled and buried with living virgins at their 
sides, and when the flesh of the two bodies rotted, the bones were 
gathered into the hide of a bull* 

* Cf. supra, p. 165. 



Could Persephone ever have been pictured in this manner, as 
offered to a serpent, so that the figures of wheaten flour might 
have represented such a version of her tale? Indeed she could, 
and indeed they might! For have we not already been told that 
she was playing in a meadow, culling flowers with the daughters of 
Okeanos, god of the all-embracing sea? But Okeanos, precisely, is 
the great serpent. Ocean, biting his tail, who surrounds the world. 
He supports it, also, in the form of the waters of the abyss and 
consequently is a counterpart of Hades — who, however, in the 
later, anecdotal developments of Greek mythology has acquired 
a separate character of his own. The serpent and human figures of 
wheaten flour not only may have been but simply must have been 
Hades and Persephone. And we must notice also that since 
Persephone was the great serpent's bride she must have been able 
to assume the form of a serpent as well as that of a pig. Such 
metamorphoses are all part of the game for goddesses. We all know 
well enough the classical motif of the two serpents intertwined, 
which has become the symbol of the medical profession, the priest- 
hood of the well-being that is the boon of the waters of the abyss, 
which waters flow as sap in the health- giving herbs and as the blood 
of life in our own healthy bodies. 

The figures of wheaten flour, therefore, represent the personages 
of the myth; and the sacrificed pigs, sacrificed instead of human 
beings, represent the participation of the living in the mystery, 
which, though it was one in the mythological age, in the lives and 
rites of men is many. Consequently the victim is simultaneously one 
and many: one in its character as Dema, the mythological maiden; 
but many in the personal life- offerings of each. The logical principle 
involved is that of the logic of dream and play, where, as we have 
already remarked, A is B and B is C: the Dema is the pig and the 
pig is man, true god and true man. 

The legend of Hainuwele, too, contains an unmistakable hint of 
an earlier version, featuring the serpent, in the painted snake on 
the doth in which the little girl, "Frond of the Cocopalm," was 
wrapped when carried from the tree, and in which the coconut 
taken from the dead boar had earlier been left standing overnight. 
The incongruous device of the boar's leap into and drowning in 


the lake, followed by Ameta's discovery of a coconut hooked to its 
tusk as well as the unexplained mystery of the voice that spoke to 
Ameta in his dream, letting him know what he was to do, suggest 
very strongly that some earlier form of the myth has been adjusted 
to a secondary reading, in which a sacrificed pig, and not a super- 
natural snake, should preponderate, very much as in the mythology 
of Persephone and Demeter. 

The structure of the earlier formula is examined in the next 
section; we may say here only, in summary of the foregoing find- 
ings, that the Greek and Indonesian myths examined have re- 
vealed not only a shared body of ritualized motifs but also signs of 
a shared past, an earlier stratum of their common story, in which 
a snake and not a pig played the animal part. And the fact that 
(one way or another) the two cycles were not merely linked 
remotely by a long, tenuous thread, but established on a broad., 
common base is made evident by a baffling series of further like- 

For example, in both mythologies the numbers 3 and 9 were 
prominent We know, also, that in the Greek rites of the goddess — 
and of her dead and resurrected daughter Persephone, as well as 
of her dead and resurrected grandson Dionysos— the choral 
chant, the boom of the drum, and the hum of the bull-roarer were 
used just as in the rites of the cannibals of Indonesia We recognize 
the labyrinth theme in both traditions, associated with the under- 
world and rendered in the figure of a spiral: in Greece, as well as 
Indonesia, choral dances were performed in this pattern. The 
reference in the Indonesian myth to Ameta's desire to prepare a 
drink for himself from the blossoms of the oocopalm suggests a 
relationship of wine or intoxication to the cult of the maiden-plant- 
moon-animal complex that would correspond nicely with the 
formula in the archaic Mediterranean culture. And finally, is not 
the figure of Demeter, at the time of her departure in wrath from 
Olympus, bearing in each hand a long, staff-like torch, com- 
parable to Satene standing at the labyrinthine gate, telling the 
people of the mythological age that she is about to leave them, and 
holding in each hand an arm of Hainuwele? 

There can be no doubt that the two mythologies are derived 



from a single base. The fact was recognized some time ago by the 
classical scholar Carl Kerenyi, 17 and his argument has been sup- 
ported since by Professor Jensen, the ethnologist chiefly re- 
sponsible for the collection of the Indonesian material. 18 

Are we to think, then, of the early grain- growing, stock-breeding 
villages of the Near East as adaptations to a temperate climate of 
a plant and animal economy derived, in principle, from the tropics? 
Or shall we say that the influence ran the other way: that the 
myths and rites of Indonesia represent transformations and regres- 
sions from a higher, less brutal system of thought originating in 
the proto- or basal neolithic villages of the Near East? 

The argument is not yet closed; nor is all the evidence in. For 
the present, we can note simply that a continuum has been estab- 
lished, with its earliest firmly dated marker in the basal- neolithic 
stratum (c. 5500-4500 B.C.) in the Near East; a second field in 
the myths and rituals of the planting tribes of South and East 
Africa and the Sudan; a third (possibly) in Hadramaut; a fourth 
(certainly) in Malabar; and still another in Indonesia and, as we 
have seen, Melanesia and Australia. We must now range even 
farther and measure the reach of this mythological zone into the 
Pacific— and even, perhaps, the New World beyond. 

IV. The Monster Eel 

East of Indonesia, Melanesia, and Australia, throughout the 
island- studded triangle of Polynesia— which has Hawaii at its 
apex. New Zealand at one angle, and Easter Island at the other— 
the mythological image of the murdered divine being whose body 
became a food plant has been adjusted to the natural elements of 
an oceanic environment. Snakes, for example, are unknown in the 
islands. The role of the serpent has to be played, therefore, by the 
closest possible counterpart of the serpent, a monster eel. And the 
force of the role has been greatly increased— or rather, there is 
further evidence that in the myths of Hainuwele and Persephone 
the force of the role must have been greatly reduced. Paradoxically, 
then, it would appear that although we are moving eastward into 
the Pacific we are also coming closer to the biblical version of 
the mythological event through which death came into the world; 



and something rather startling is beginning to appear, furthermore, 
concerning the relationship of Mother Eve to the serpent, and of 
the serpent to the food tree in the Garden. The voluptuous 
atmosphere of the lush Polynesian adventure will be different, in- 
deed, from the grim holiness of the rabbinical Torah; nevertheless, 
we are certainly in the same old book— of which, so to say, all the 
earliest editions have been lost. 

The hero of the following version of the origin of the coconut is 
not the first parent of mankind but the favorite trickster hero of 
Polynesia, Maui, who is roughly a counterpart of Hercules. He is 
generally known as the youngest of a company of brothers, who 
may vary in number from three (in Rarotonga) to six (in some 
of the versions from New Zealand); and among the best known of 
his many magical exploits were the fishing up of the islands from the 
bottom of the sea, snaring of the sun to slow it down in its passage, 
lifting of the sky to give his friends more room on earth, and 
theft of fire for his mother's kitchen. Maui's wife, the heroine of 
our story, is the passionate, completely unashamed beauty Hina 
(for, indeed, of what should she be ashamed?), who can be seen 
to this day in the markings of the moon, where she is sitting be- 
neath a big ovava tree, beating out tapa doth from its bark . 19 

Here is the Tuamotuan version of Hina's adventure: 20 

Hina was originally the wife of the Monster Eel, Te Tuna 
[whose name means frankly, the Phallus], and the two lived 
together in their land beneath the sea until a day when Hina 
thought she had been there long enough. The place was in- 
tensely cold; and besides, she wanted now to be rid of Te 
Tuna. So she said to him: "You just stay here at home! I am 
going off to forage for us both." 

"And when shall you return?" he asked. 

She answered: "I shall be gone for quite a while; because 
today and tonight will be spent traveling, tomorrow looking 
for food, and the next day and night cooking the food; but 
the following day and night will see me on the way home. " 

"Then go," he told her, "and stay away as long as neces- 

So she set out on her journey. And she never paused to look 
for food, but went on to forage for a new lover. She went as 
far as to the land of the Male- principle (Tane) Clan, and 


when she had reached their place called out: "The eel- shaped 
creature dwelling in this inland region rides manfully to pas- 
sion's consummation: Te Tuna dwelling in the sea out there 
is but insipid food. I am a woman to be possessed by an eel- 
shaped lover; a woman come all the long way hither to unite 
in the struggle of passion upon the shores of Raro-nuku 
(the Land-below) and of Raro-vai-i-o (the Land- of- penetrat- 
ing waters); the first woman thus to come utterly without 
shame seeking the eel- shaped rod of love. I am the dark 
pubic patch pursuing the assuagement of desire. For the 
fame of your manly prowess, O men of the Clan of the Male 
Principle, reached me even in the world below. I have come 
to you by way of unnumbered shores— along sandy beaches. 
Arise, O Detumescent Staff! Be plunged in the consumma- 
tion of love. I am this woman from afar, desiring you ar- 
dently, O men of the Male- principle Clan!" 

But the men of the clan only shouted at her in answer: 
"There is the road: follow it, and keep going! We shall never 
take the woman of the Monster Eel, Te Tuna, lest we be 
slain. He would be here in less than a day." 

She continued on her way, and when she arrived at the 
land of the Penetrating- embrace (Peka) Clan, called out 
again, using the same words; but the men replied as had the 
others. She went on to the land of the Erect (Tu) Clan, and 
once again all happened as before. She came to the land of 
the Wonder-worker (Maui) Clan, where the call and response 
were again repeated. And then she approached the home of 
Maui's mother, Hua-hega. 

When Hua-hega saw Hina approaching, she said to her son, 
Maui: "Take that woman for yourself!" 

And so Maui-tikitiki-a-Ataraga (Wonder-worker, the Tu- 
mid, begotten of Ascending Shadow) took Hina to wife; and 
they all lived in that place together. But very soon, everybody 
round about realized that Te Tuna's wife had been taken 
by Maui, and they went to Te Tuna and told him. 

"Your wife," they said, "has been carried ofF by Maui." 

"Oh, let him have that woman to lie upon!" Te Tuna an- 

However, they returned to him so often, always harping 
on the same theme, that finally Te Tuna was roused to anger. 
He said to the people who kept coming to him with this chat- 
ter: "What, then, is this man Maui like?" 

"He is actually a very small fellow," they replied, "and the 
end of his phallus is quite lopsided. " 



"Well— just let him get one glimpse of the soiled strip of 
loincloth between my legs," Te Tuna boasted, "and he'll go 
flying out of the way!" Then he said: "Go tell Maui that I am 
coming on an expedition of vengeance!" And he chanted a 
melancholy song of lamentation for his wife. 

The people listened to the song and went to Maui. "Te 
Tuna," they said, "is coming to get you on an expedition of 

"Just let him come!" Maui said. But then he asked, "What 
sort of creature is he?" 

"Ho!" they said. "A gigantic monster!" 

"Is he as sturdy and strong as a tall, straight coconut tree?" 

The people, wishing to mislead him, answered: "He is 
like a leaning coconut tree. " 

Maui asked: "Is he always weak and bending?" 

They answered: "His weakness is inherent." 

"Oho!" cried Maui. "Just let him catch one glimpse of the 
lopsided end of my phallus, and he'll go flying out of the 

The days passed, and patiently Maui waited— he and his 
household, living all together. And on a certain day when 
the skies grew dark, thunder rolled and lightning flashed, the 
people were filled with fear; for they knew that this now must 
be the coming of Te Tuna: and they all blamed Maui. "This," 
they said, "is the first time that one man has stolen the 
woman of another. We shall all be slain." 

Maui reassured them. "J ust keep close together and we shall 
not be slain." 

Te Tuna presently appeared, and there were with him 
four companions: Pupu-vae-noa (Tuft-in- the- center), Maga- 
vai-i-e-rire (Noose- existing- in- woman), Porporo-tu-a-huaga 
(Testicles- set- in- the- scrotum), and Toke-a-kura (Clitoris- 
continuously- suffused). The Monster Eel stripped ofF his 
soiled loincloth and held it up in the sight of all, when at once 
a vast billowy surge reared up and roared landward from 
the sea. It came sweeping on, towering above the land, and 
Hua-hega shouted to her son Maui: "Be quick! Let your 
phallus be seen!" 

Maui obeyed, and immediately the huge wave receded un- 
til the bed of the sea was laid bare and the monsters were 
piled high and dry on a reef. Then he proceeded to the place 
where they were stranded and struck down three. Toke-a- 
kura got away with a broken leg, while Te Tuna, himself, 
Maui spared. 


Together, Maui and Te Tuna went to Maui's home, where 
they lived in harmony until a day when Te Tuna said to Maui: 
"We shall have to fight a duel, and when one of us has been 
killed the other will take the woman for himself." 

"What sort of duel would you like it to be?" Maui asked. 

And Te Tuna said: "We shall first engage in a contest in 
which each goes completely into the body of the other, and 
when that is over, I am going to kill you, take my woman, 
and return with her to my own land. " 

"Let it be as you wish," Maui agreed. Then he asked: "And 
who is to be the first?" 

"I'll begin," the Monster Eel replied, and when Maui con- 
sented, Te Tuna stood up and commenced chanting his in- 

The Orea-eel swings and sways. 

The Orea-eel balances his head lower and lower: 

He is a mighty monster who has come hither across the 
ocean from his distant isle. 

Your phallus will urinate from fright! 

The monster contracts, becoming smaller and smaller. 

It is I, Te Tuna, who now enter, O Maui, into your body! 

And Te Tuna disappeared completely into Maui's body, 
where he disposed himself to remain. However, after a long 
while, he came out again. 

Maui had not been disturbed in the least. "Well, now it 
is my turn," Maui said. 

Te Tuna agreed and the Wonder-worker began to chant 
his own spell, thus: 

The Orea-eel swings and sways. 

The Orea balances his head lower and lower— 

A small man stands erect upon the land— 

Your phallus will urinate from fright! 

The man contracts— becoming smaller and smaller. 

It is I, Maui, who now enter, O Te Tuna, into your body! 

Maui disappeared completely into Te Tuna's body, and at 
once all the sinews of the Monster Eel were rent apart, so 
that he died. Whereupon Maui stepped forth and, cutting ofF 
Te Tuna's head, bore it away, intending to give it to his 
grandfather. But his mother, Hua-hega, got hold of it and 
refused to give it up. She said to Maui: "Take the head and 



bury it beside the post in the comer of our house." And so 
he took it, buried it as she had directed, and never gave it 
another thought. 

Maui continued to go about his usual daily tasks and they 
all went on living together as before, until, one evening, 
when they were sitting in the comer of the house where the 
head of Te Tuna had been buried, Maui perceived that a 
new shoot had sprung up from the sand. He was amazed. 
Hua-hega, noticing his surprise, said to him: "Why are you 
surprised?" To which he answered: "The head of Te Tuna 
that I buried here in this comer of our house: why has it 

Hua-hega then told him: "The plant growing beside you 
is a kind of coconut known as 'husk of the sea-green color 
from the region of the gods,' because it has arisen from the 
depths of the sea, to reveal to us the color of its own land. 
Take care of your precious coconut tree and you will find 
that it will provide us all with food. " 

Maui plucked the fruit when it matured. The meat within 
was eaten by all, and the shell then was fashioned by Maui 
into a couple of bowls, to serve as drinking cups. And when 
all was done he danced and sang a boastful song in celebration 
of his own prowess and of that superiority in magic through 
which the Monster Eel's head had become transformed into 
his food: 

No more than a woman's belt strap. 

No more than a scurrying cockroach. 

Was Tuna the Ancient One! 

Bewitched with a sprig of mohio fem, 

A leaf casting its spell upon a mere simpleton in the arts of 

What, indeed, did he bring against me? 

Nothing at all! 

"And that," the tale concludes, "is the way the coconut was 
acquired as food for all the people of this Earth- world here above." 

The adventure, as here narrated, was taken down from the lips 
of Fariua-a-Makitua, an old chieftain of the island of Fagatu in the 
Tuamotu Archipelago, which is in the very middle of the Pacific, 
just east of the Society Islands and Tahiti. The old man had been 



a disciple in his youth of an earlier teacher, Kamake, who in his 
time had been regarded as the greatest of all the Tuamotuan 
sages . 21 And I have presented this unadulterated version of the 
legend of Hina and the monster eel in extenso, not only because 
it renders authentically the moral atmosphere of the ancient 
Polynesian epics, but also because it may serve as an introduction 
to our later studies of magic, the force of magic, and the power 
of erotic elements in primitive conjuring. 

The narrative, as here recounted, is translated from a style of 
Polynesian recitative that suggests very strongly both the form 
and the atmosphere of the archaic ceremonials from which the 
Greek tragedy and comedy were developed in the sixth century 
B.c. Just as the Greek satyr-chorus sang and danced its strophe 
and antistrophe, turning and whirling in a labyrinthine dance while 
the legend of the god or hero was being sung— so here. Captain 
Cook and the other early voyagers in the Pacific have described 
the great religious festivals where literally hundreds of dancers, in 
orderly files and rows, performed sacred hulas to the boom of 
drums, sonorous gourds, and organ- pipe bamboos thumped upon 
the ground, while the sacred chants of the heroes and the gods 
were sung in strophe and antistrophe by soloists and choruses of 
many voices . 22 For example, Te Tuna's melancholy chant of 
lament for the loss of Hina, when the people had convinced him 
that he should go to win her back, appeared, in the original, as 

Kua riro! 

Te arohai te 
hoa ki roto i 
te manava; 

—kua riro. 

Matagi kavea mai e 
Kua riro. 

Ho atu. . . . 

First Voice 

My loved one has been stolen from me. 

Second Voice 

Grieving love for the 
wife stirs within 
the heart; 


— for she has become the mistress of 

The winds have brought the word 
That she has been stolen from me. 

We now set out. . . . 




First Voice 

Ho atu matou ki Vavau, We now set out for Vavau. 

Kia higo i te hoa — 

— kua riro. 

Matagi i aue e 
Kua riro. 

Te aroha. . . . 

Te aroha i te vahine 
ki roto i te manava. 

Kia kite taku mata 
i te ipo— 

—kua riro. 

Matagi i aue e. 

Te aroha i-i-i-i-e! 

Second Voice 

To see the loved one— 


—who has become the mistress of an- 

Wailing, the very winds lament 
Her who has been stolen from me. 
Grieving love. . . . 


First Voice 

Grieving love for the wife 
wells within the breast. 

Second Voice 

Would that my eyes 

again beheld the loved one — 


— who has been stolen from me; now 
clasped in the arms of another. 
Even the winds lament. 

Bitter is my anguish and despair. 

Farther along in this chapter we must look again at the highly 
complex but gradually clearing problem of the relationship of the 
early Pacific to the archaic Mediterranean traditions; but first let 
us enlarge our spectrum of the myths and tales of the Polynesian 
monster eel. We shall then be in a better position not only to 
analyze the variant versions of the myth in the Bible, but also to 
comprehend the reduced role of the serpent in the Greek Perseph- 
one and Indonesian Hainuwele versions of the myth, with their 
stress on the ritual sacrifice of a pig. For one of the most important 
as well as illuminating aspects of the prehistoric perspective opened 
by a comparative study of myth rests in the problem of the pig's 
taking on the role of the serpent as the sacred animal of the 
labyrinth— and after the pig the bull, and after the bull the horse. 


In the course of its long history and longer prehistory of dif- 
fusion, the mythologem (or nudear mythological image) of the 
origin of the food plant generated a broad series of mutually 
darifying yet strikingly different variants, each seeming to reveal 
some essential quality or asped of what must once have been the 
primal form, yet none being definitely more digible to be its 
representative than any of the rest. The picture can perhaps be 
compared to that of a number of sisters and brothers, all represent- 
ing a family type, yet none more authentically than the rest. And 
the more numerous the gathered examples, the more fasdnating 
and tantalizing the comparison. 

For instance In the Friendly Islands (Tonga), it is told that a 
male child. Eel, was bom to a human couple, who had also a pair of 
human daughters. Eel, living in a pool, sprang toward his sisters 
in eager affection, but they fled, and when he pursued they jumped 
into the sea and became two rocks that may be seen to this day 
off the shore of Tongatabu. Eel went on swimming to Samoa, 
where he again took up life in a pool. But when a virgin, bathing 
there, became pregnant because of his presence, the people de- 
rided to kill him. He told the girl to ask the people to give her 
his head when he had been killed, and to plant it, which she did. 
And it grew into a new sort of tree, the coconut tree . 23 

In Mangaia, one of the Cook Islands, the maiden's name was 
Ina (a dialect variant of Hina), and she liked to bathe in a certain 
pool. But there was a great eel that swam past and touched her; this 
occurred again and again, and one time he threw off his eel form 
and stood before her as she bathed, a beautiful youth named Tuna 
(once again— Te Tuna). Ina accepted Tuna as her lover, and he 
would always visit her in human form but become an ed when he 
went away. And then, one day, he told her that the time had come 
when he would have to depart horn her forever. He would make 
one final visit the next day, in a great flood of water, in the form 
of an eel; when she should decapitate him and bury the head. Tuna 
came; Ina did as she had been told. And every day thereafter she 
visited the place of the buried head, until, at length, a green shoot 
appeared, which grew into a beautiful tree that in the course of 


time produced fruits, the first coconuts. And every nut, when 
husked, stOl shows the eyes and face of Ina's lover . 24 

Plant-origin stories conforming to this stereotype are common 
for the other food plants of Polynesia also. The breadfruit tree 
first appeared, for example, according to a legend told in Hawaii, 
when a man named Ulu, dwelling near the present dty of Hilo, 
died of famine. He and his wife had a sickly baby boy whose life 
was endangered by the general scarcity of food, and the man, 
distracted, had gone in prayer to the temple at Puueo, to learn 
from the god what should be done. 

Now the god of that temple was of a type known in Hawaiian 
as the mo'o: which is a word meaning "lizard," or "reptile." But 
the only reptile in Hawaii is a harmless, even affectionately re- 
garded little lizard that scurries up and down the walls of people's 
houses and dings like a fly to ceilings, trapping insects with its 
quick tongue. The manner in which the mythological system of 
the islands has magnified this innocuous creature to the proportions 
of a greatly dangerous divine dragon supplies one of the most 
graphic illustrations I know of a mythological process— seldom 
mentioned in the textbooks of our subjed but of considerable force 
and importance nevertheless— to which the late Dr. Ananda K. 
Coomaraswamy referred as land-nama, "land naming" or "land 
taking ." 25 Through land-nama, "land naming," or "land taking," 
the features of a newly entered land are assimilated by an im- 
migrant people to its imported heritage of myth. We have already 
noted the case of the role of the serpent assumed by an eel. We 
are now considering that of the same serpent role assumed by a 
harmless lizard. We might also have considered the manner in 
which the Pilgrim Fathers and pioneers of America established 
their New Canaans, Nazareths, Sharons, Bethels, and Bethlehems 
wherever they went. The new land, and all the features of the new 
land, are linked back as securely as possible to the archetypes— 
the spiritually, psychologically, and sociologically significant arche- 
types— of whatever mythological system the people cany in their 
hearts. And through this process the land is spiritually validated, 
sanctified, and assimilated to the image of destiny that is the 



fashioning dynamism of the people's lives. We shall have plenty 
of occasion, throughout the following chapters, to observe the 
force of this principle in the shaping of symbols. The process has 
now been clearly announced to us by the monster eel and the noble 
mo'o of the mythologies of remote Polynesia. 

To proceed, then, with the legend of the origin of the breadfruit: 
When the man, Ulu, returned to his wife from his visit to the temple 
at Puueo, he said, "I have heard the voice of the noble Mo'o, and 
he has told me that tonight, as soon as darkness draws over the 
sea and the fires of the volcano goddess, Pele, light the clouds over 
the crater of Mount Kilauea, the black doth will cover my head. 
And when the breath has gone from my body and my spirit has 
departed to the realms of the dead, you are to bury my head 
carefully near our spring of running water. Plant my heart and 
entrails near the door of the house. My feet, legs, and arms, hide 
in the same manner. Then he down upon the couch where the 
two of us have reposed so often, listen carefully throughout the 
night, and do not go forth before the sun has reddened the morning 
sky. If, in the silence of the night, you should hear noises as of 
falling leaves and flowers, and afterward as of heavy fruit dropping 
to the ground, you will know that my prayer has been granted: 
the life of our little boy will be saved. " And having said that, Ulu 
fell on his face and died. 

His wife sang a dirge of lament, but did precisely as she was 
told, and in the morning she found her house surrounded by a 
perfect thicket of vegetation. 

"Before the door," we are told in Thomas Thrum's rendition 
of the legend , 28 

on the very spot where she had buried her husband's heart, 
there grew a stately tree covered over with broad, green leaves 
dripping with dew and shining in the early sunlight, while 
on the grass lay the ripe, round fruit, where it had fallen 
from the branches above. And this tree she called Ulu (bread- 
fruit) in honor of her husband. The little spring was con- 
cealed by a succulent growth of strange plants, bearing gi- 
gantic leaves and pendant clusters of long yellow fruit, which 
she named bananas. The intervening space was filled with a 
luxuriant growth of slender stems and twining vines, of 



which she called the former sugar-cane and the latter yams; 
while all around the house were growing little shrubs and 
esculent roots, to each one of which she gave an appropriate 
name. Then summoning her little boy, she bade him gather 
the breadfruit and bananas, and, reserving the largest and 
best for the gods, roasted the remainder in the hot coals, 
telling him that in future this should be his food. With the 
first mouthful, health returned to the body of the child, and 
from that time he grew in strength and stature until he at- 
tained to the fulness of perfect manhood. He became a mighty 
warrior in those days, and was known throughout all the 
island, so that when he died, his name, Mokuola, was given 
to the islet in the bay of Hilo where his bones were buried; 
by which name it is called even to the present time. 

An important system of such myths and rites, folktales and 
folk customs, deriving from a nuclear concept of the reciprocities 
of death and life (both in the way of killing and consuming and 
in that of propagating and dying) has been identified throughout 
the broad belt of the tropical equatorial zone, from the West 
African Sudan, across the Indian Ocean, deep into Polynesia— 
indeed, all the way to Easter Island, where the concept is rendered 
in the image of a caught and eaten fish. 

"Where is our ancient queen?" we read, for example, in a text 
supplied by a native informant, who was reading (or at least 
professing to read) one of the mysterious hieroglyphic tablets of 
Easter Island that are supposed to have been preserved there for 
generations. "It is known," the reading continued, "that she was 
transformed into a fish that was finally caught in the still waters. 

. . . Away, away, if you cannot name the fish: that lovely fish 
with the short gills that was brought for food to our Great King 
and was laid upon a dish that rocked this way and that ." 27 

Many variants of the constellation are known, ranging from 
cannibalistic rites to poetical tales of parental love; but their kin- 
ship is clear. Nor is the vast diffusion difficult to credit. The Indian 
Ocean basin has been the watery highway for millenniums of 
cultural exchanges, back and forth, while Polynesia received its 
population largely from the Indonesian zone. A single language 
family, the Malayo- Polynesian, extends, in fact, all the way from 



Madagascar (just off the coast of southeast Africa) eastward to 
Easter Island (off the coast of Peru), and from New Zealand north 
to Formosa, and northeast to Hawaii. 23 Such linguistic affinities 
indicate not only cultural and historical relationship, but also 
psychological homologies— and to such a degree that not even 
the most passionate supporter of a theory of parallel development 
would presume (I should think) to explain according to his 
cherished principles such a coincidence as that represented by the 
following ways of naming the numbers from one to ten: 29 














































































The next step in this comparative study is to follow our theme 
to the shores of Peru and Mexico, the jungles of the Amazon, and 
the North American plains. 

V. Parallelism or Diffusion? 

The archaeology and ethnography of the past half-century have 
made it dear that the anrient dvilizations of the Old World— 
those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete and Greece, India and China 
—derived from a single base, and that this community of origin 
suffices to explain the homologous forms of their mythological and 
ritual structures. As already noted,* the beginnings of this epochal 
flowering have been traced to a neolithic base in the Near East, the 
first signs of which have been identified c. 7500-5500 B.C., and to 
the sudden appearance in approximately the same area, c. 3200 
B.c., of a syndrome of priestly discoveries and crafts, induding an 

* Supra, pp. 135-150. 



astronomical calendar, the art of writing, a science of mathematics 
applied to and attempting to coordinate the measurements of 
space and time, and the conception of the wheel. Nowhere else 
in the world have any of the elements either of the neolithic as- 
semblage or of higher civilization been identified at levels of any- 
thing like these depths; and the probability of a worldwide diffusion 
from the Near East of the basic arts, not only of all higher civiliza- 
tion, but also of all village living based on agriculture and stock- 
breeding, has consequently been argued with bountiful documenta- 
tion, by a group of scholars of which Professor Robert Heine- 
Geldem of Vienna is today the leader. 

As we have observed, there is still some question, however, as to 
the ultimate backgrounds of the neolithic. One has certainly to 
concede that the basic arts of higher civilization were derived, as 
far as the Afro- Eurasian hemisphere is concerned, from the now 
well established Near Eastern matrix. Nevertheless, with respect 
to the arts of planting and stock-breeding, the earliest neolithic 
villages of the Near East may represent simply one province of a 
considerably larger zone. The earliest horizon for the domestication 
of the pig in what may be termed, roughly, the Malayo- Polynesian 
sphere has not yet been established; nor do we know how far back 
the primitive cultivation of the coconut, banana, and tuberous 
food plants should be placed. Therefore, though it may, on one 
hand, ultimately be found that most of the myths and rituals of 
the Malayo- Polynesian area should be interpreted as provincial to 
the Near Eastern proto- or basal neolithic, it may, on the other 
hand, ultimately appear that the reading should be run the other 
way. But in cither case (and this point, I believe, no one 
acquainted with the facts now assembled would deny) the two 
developments were not separate; so that the progress of human 
culture in the Old World from the level of food- collection (hunt- 
ing and root- gathering) to that of food- cultivation (planting and 
stock-breeding) has now to be studied as one very broadly spread, 
yet single process. 

With respect, however, to the New World there is still raging 
a violent, and even cantankerous scholarly conflict of opinion. 

For example, in a firm presentation of the point of view that has 


been favored by the majority of our North American schools of 
anthropology, we read: 

In both hemispheres, man started from cultural scratch, as 
a nomadic hunter, a user of stone tools, a paleolithic savage. 

In both he spread over great continents and shaped his life to 
cope with every sort of environment. Then, in both hemi- 
spheres, wild plants were brought under cultivation; popula- 
tion increased; concentrations of people brought elaboration 
of social groupings and rapid progress in the arts. Pottery 
came into use, fibres and wools were woven into cloth, ani- 
mals were domesticated, metal working began— first in gold 
and copper, then in the harder alloy, bronze. Systems of writ- 
ing were evolved. 

Not only in material things do the parallels hold. In the 
New World as well as in the Old, priesthoods grew and, ally- 
ing themselves with temporal powers, or becoming rulers in 
their own right, reared to their gods vast temples adorned 
with painting and sculpture. The priests and chiefs provided 
for themselves elaborate tombs richly stocked for the future 
life. In political history it is the same. In both hemispheres 
group joined group to form tribes; coalitions and conguests 
brought pre-eminence; empires grew and assumed the para- 
phernalia of glory. 

These are astonishing similarities. And if we believe, as 
most modem students do, that the Indians' achievement was 
made independently, and their progress was not stimulated 
from overseas, then we reach a very significant conclusion. 
We can infer that human beings possess an innate urge to 
take certain definite steps toward what we call civilization. 
And that men also possess the innate ability, given proper 
environmental conditions, to put that urge into effect. In 
other words, we must consider that civilization is an inevita- 
ble response to laws governing the growth of culture and con- 
trolling the man- culture relationship. 30 

Leo Frobenius, however, as early as 1903 was taking a precisely 
contrary view, one that has since been represented and developed 
chiefly by the European and South American scholars of the 
subject. Believing that the primitive planting villages of eguatorial 
America were extensions eastward from Polynesia of a cultural 
style that he had already identified from the Sudan to Easter 



Island, he argued that the basic American hunting- culture con- 
tinuum— which had been carried into the continent from north- 
eastern Siberia, across Bering Strait, and had spread downward 
vertically from Alaska to Cape Horn— must have been struck 
horizontally by sea voyagers from Polynesia and cut through, as 
by a wedge. "In our study of Oceania," he wrote, "it can be shown 
that a bridge existed, and not a chasm, between America and Asia. 
It would be a contradiction to all the laws of the local culture of 
Oceania for us to assume that the Polynesians called a halt and 
turned back at Easter Island. And from Hawaii, furthermore, an 
often traveled bridge of wind currents leads to the Northwest 
Coast." 31 

The strongest and usual reply of the isolationists to every 
argument of the diffusionists was that the Polynesian migrations 
were late, far too late, to account for the invention of agriculture 
and the flowering of high civilization in the New World. The 
period of the great Polynesian migrations they placed between the 
tenth and fourteenth centuries A.D., and the earliest possible entry 
of man into that far-flung island world of the South Pacific not 
earlier than the fifth century A.D. 32 Whereas all sorts of ancient 
dates were proposed for the earliest agricultural horizon in the 
New World: Spinden's date, for example, of c. 4000 B.C., or 
Kroeber's, c. 3000 B.C. 33 

Actually, however, the earliest well-established date for American 
agriculture is only c. 1016 ± 300 B.C., at a site on the northern 
coast of Peru called Huaca Priera* There, at the mouth of the 
Chicama Valley, a number of mounds excavated in the late 1940s 

* I am not discussing any of the fanciful interpretations that have been 
suggested for the celebrated "Bat Cave" discovery in western New Mexico, 
where a series of early C-14 datings on a "primitive pod-com" misled the 
argument for a time (cf. Alfonso Caso in Anthropology Today [Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1953], p. 231, and Alex D. Krieger, ibid., p. 
251). The discovery since of maize pollen in drill cores in the Valley of 
Mexico at a depth of over 200 feet, where it would appear to represent an 
age of not less than 60,000 years, indicates that there was a wild primitive 
com in North America (cf. Paul C. Mangelsdorf, "New Evidence on the 
Origin and Ancestry of Maize," American Antiquity, XIX, No. 4 [1954], pp. 
409-10). The "Bat Cave" date consequently can no longer be argued as 
evidence of an antecedent agricultural horizon. 



yielded a beautiful series of stratified remains, four extremely 
significant samplings of which have been dated by the new 
radiocarbon (C-14) method as follows: 

L Sample No. 598 : charcoal from bedrock- level fireplaces, 2348 ± 
230 B.c. There was no evidence of agriculture on this level. 
The associated remains indicated the presence only of a 
primitive hunting, fishing, and food- gathering community. 

2. Sample No. 321: wood associated with agricultural products, 

1016 ± 300 B.c. On this level the earliest agricultural prod- 
ucts appeared, and they were, to everyone's amazement: a) 
twined fabrics (nets and woven matting) made of an Asiatic 
cotton, and b) two small bottle- gourds carved in low relief 
with highly stylized figures suggesting trans- Pacific themes 
(a double bird head and the mask of a sort of cat- or jaguar- 
man)— the bottle-gourd being a plant not native to America. 
In addition, bits of bark cloth (tapa: an Oceanic, trans- Pacific 
element) were found in association with these remains. 

3. Sample No. 323: rope associated with a coarse ceramic ware: 

682 ± 300 B.c. 

4. Sample No. 75: house timber associated with cultivated maize: 

715 ±200 B.C. 34 

It is obvious that the dates are far short of the old "early agricul- 
tural horizon" of c. 3000 or 4000 B.C. And meanwhile, to settle 
the balance, a radiocarbon date of 1530 ± 200 B.C. has been 
established for a settlement of some kind on the island of Saipan 
in the Marianas, well out in the Pacific, some 1500 miles eastward 
of the Philippines. 35 So the protest of "far too late" has been 
rendered null. 

The latest position of the argument for independent develop- 
ment is presented in a series of articles by Wendel C. Bennett, 
Alex D. Krieger, and Gordon R. Willey, in a recent encyclopedic 
inventory of the anthropological sciences. Anthropology Today, 
which was published in 1953. Briefly stated, a so-called "New 
World Formative Period" has been postulated, during which the 
basic neolithic arts of both Peru and Middle America should have 
been developed, "a center, or centers, of origin," as Professor 
Willey formulates the idea, "lying anywhere between central Mexico 
and southern Peru." 36 "The argument runs," states Professor 
Bennett, "that an agricultural economy, based on plant domestica- 



tion in South America, spread throughout the entire area of what 
is now called 'Nuclear America. 1 It is still undetermined whether 
this complex was spread by migration or by diffusion, or, for that 
matter, whether it could not have developed independently. In 
any case, two major centers of advanced civilization grew out of 
this Formative basis, one in Mesoamerica, one in the Central 
Andes, in large part independently of each other . . . but in the 
intermediate region the Formative complex persisted and spread 
around the Caribbean area. " 37 

No one, however, has yet come out guite clearly with the dates 
to which the New World Formative Period should be assigned. 
"Certainly no less than 3000 years ago [i.e., 1000 B.c.], and prob- 
ably much more," writes Professor J ulian H. Steward, for example, 
in his "Interpretative Summary" at the close of the great six-volume 
Handbook of South American Indians, of which he was the editor, 
"the Indian began to bring native American plants under domestica- 
tion." 38 Nor can anyone yet say just where the New World Forma- 
tive Period took its rise. "The region of its ultimate origin is un- 
known," writes Professor Steward, "but it might have been in 
South America. " 39 

It might, however, have been somewhere else entirely, as we 
may judge from the early appearance of those bottle- gourds on 
the coast of Peru, c. 1016 ± 300 B.C. The bottle gourd is not a wild 
but a cultivated plant and depends, as Carl O. Sauer points out, 
on the care of man for its preservation. "It is in no sense a marsh 
plant," he writes. "The theory of its accidental dissemination in- 
volves," he then continues, "in addition to the undamaged transit 
of an ocean, a waiting agriculturalist who carried it in from the 
seashore to a suitable spot of cultivation." 40 

But the bottle- gourd is not the only plant that came to America 
across the Pacific. The Asiatic cotton that entered the New World 
at the same time and is present in the earliest agricultural, pre- 
ceramic horizons of both Peru and Chile not only made itself at 
home here but also mixed with a wild American variety— where- 
upon the mixed breed was carried back into and through Polynesia, 
as far as to Fiji. 41 Add the fact that the cocopalm was cultivated 
in pre-Columbian tropical America "in great groves" and is not a 



plant that can establish itself by being washed up onto a beach ; 42 
the further fact that the cultivated amaranth (which is known— 
perhaps significantly— as pigweed) was used as both a cereal and a 
potherb in pre-Columbian America, as also in India and other 
Asiatic monsoon lands ; 43 again, the fact that the plantain, which 
was a common staple of Indian diet and widely distributed in the 
tropics of the New World, from southern Brazil to J alisco, Mexico, 
appears to have been introduced from overseas before the coming 
of Columbus ,- 44 still again, the fact that the origin of maize itself 
is still obscure and may indeed have involved a Southeast Asian 
contribution ; 45 and finally, the fact that a number of plants known 
to have been first cultivated in America have been found well 
established in the Southwest Pacific (namely the peanut, jackbean, 
lima bean, jicama, and sweet potato, the last even having the same 
name— kumar/ kumara— in Peru and in Polynesia) 46 — and the 
case is made for at least a modicum of American participation in 
the cultural movements of the Malayo- Polynesian sphere. 

Professor Paul Rivet, honorary director of the Musee de 
l'Homme in Paris, has pointed out that in coastal Chile and Peru, as 
well as in certain regions of Mexico, the Polynesian style of oven 
is used ; 47 that comparisons can be made between the writing 
system of Easter Island and the ideographs of certain tribes of 
Colombia, Venezuela, and the high Peruvian- Bolivian plateau; 
that twenty- one artifacts of Polynesian design have been found in 
various points in America, from the Argentine to Vancouver 
Island, wooden clubs identical to those of the South Sea Islands 
in Peru and among the Tlinkits of the Northwest Coast; that in 
Polynesia itself traditions existed of voyages beyond Easter Island, 
and that both the seaworthy catamarans of the South Seas and the 
balsas of Peru were capable of trans-Pacific adventures: further- 
more, that in Peru there were traditions of expeditions to the West 
—one, indeed, of four hundred boats and twenty thousand men, 
sent by one of the last of the Incas of Peru, Tupac-Inca-Yupanqui, 
which returned after nine months or a year with black prisoners 
and a brass or copper throne— in Mangareva, reciprocally, there 
having been the tradition of "a red man who came from the East 
with a fleet of raft- like ships." The Kon-Tiki Expedition of Thor 



Heyerdahl in the summer of 1947, from Peru to the Tuamotus on a 
Peruvian balsa raft, made evident as vividly as anyone could have 
desired the possibility of voyages of this kind. 

"Would it after all have been surprising," asks Monsieur Rivet, 
after a consideration of all these matters, "if the Polynesians, the 
most prodigious navigators on earth, had pursued their travels as 
far as the shores of America? Perfectly familiar with currents and 
winds, able to steer a course by the stars, they sailed at night and 
regularly made trips of 2000 miles, sometimes even 4200 miles, 
without putting ashore. To find the tiny Polynesian islands lost in 
the immensity of the Pacific they were guided by the small doud 
which forms above each island at a height of over 11,000 feet and 
which is perceived by a practiced eye from a distance of 120 miles. 
Their double canoes, pirogues, made seven to eight miles per hour, 
75 miles in a ten- to twelve-hour day; thus one of these boats 
could have covered the distance from Hawaii to California, or 
from Easter Island to the South American coast in twenty days." 48 
But the voyages of the Polynesians cannot have been the earliest 
by any means; for we have those carbon- dated calabashes of 
Huaca Prieta; also the cotton, coconut, and amaranth, all of which 
would have arrived before the period of the Polynesians. Paul 
Rivet has argued for a series of Melanesian arrivals, pointing out 
that a certain American Indian language group (the Hokan 
languages of Central America, Mexico, and California) is closer 
to Melanesian even than the Polynesian languages are. And in 1923 
Professor A. L. Kroeber of the University of California, whom no 
one, I think, could then have accused of being a diffusionist, in the 
following passage conceded recognition to an example of what he 
clearly hoped would ultimately be shown to be a mere fluke— or at 
most an extraordinary example of parallel development. 

A startling parallelism has been demonstrated between 
the Pan's pipes of the Solomon Islands in Melanesia and those 
of the northwest Brazilian Indians. The odd pipes differ, each 
from the next, by the interval of a fourth. The even pipes 
give notes half-way in pitch between the adjacent odd ones, 
and thus form another "circle of fourths." But the similarity 
does not end here. The absolute pitch of the examined in- 
struments from Melanesia and Brazil is the same. Thus, the 



vibration rates in successive pipes are 557 and 560.5; 651 
and 651; 759 and 749; 880 and 879! This is so dose a coind- 
dence as to seem at first sight beyond the bounds of aoddental 
convergence. The data have in fed been offered, and in some 
guarters accepted, as evidence of a historical connection be- 
tween the western Padfic and South America. Yet the con- 
nection would have had to be andent, since no memory of it 
remains nor is it supported by resemblances in race, speech, 
nor anything obvious in culture. The instruments are perish- 
able. Primitive people, working by rule of thumb, would be 
unable to produce an instrument of given absolute pitch ex- 
cept by matching it against another, and perhaps not then. 
Moreover, it is not known that absolute pitch is of the least 
concern to them It is therefore incredible that this cor- 
respondence rests on any andent diffusion: there must be an 
error in the record somewhere, or the one aeddent in a million 
has happened in the particular instruments examined. 

The identify of scale or intervals however remains, and may 
be a true case of paralldism. Only, as usual, it boils down to 
a rather simple matter. The drdes of fourths evidently origi- 
nate in the practice, in both regions, of overblowing the pipes. 
This produces over- tones; of which the second, the "third 
partial tone," is the fifth above the octave of the fundamental, 
so that successive notes in either the odd or even series of 
pipes, would, on the octave bang disallowed, differ by fourths. 
The basis of the resemblance, then, is a physical few of sound. 
The cultural similarity shrinks to the facts of pipes in series, 
the use of overblown tones, and the intercalating odd- even 
series. Even these resemblances are striking, and more spe- 
cific than many dted cases of parallelism. In fad, were they 
supported by enough resemblances in other aspects of culture, 
they would go far to compd belief in actual connections be- 
tween Mdanesia and Brazil. 49 

Actually, of course, a multitude of resemblances exist: the use 
of the blowgun with poisoned arrows; the chewing of lime mixed 
with a narcotic; a certain technique of weaving, known as ikat 
weaving; the pounding of bark doth (tapa); the headhunt with its 
ceremonial preservation of the taken head; the men's secret sodety 
with its contrived spooks and devices for intimidating the women; 
the dwelling of whole communities in a single house; an architec- 
ture on piles; cat's cradle games (string-labyrinth figures) com- 
prising many transformations, each with a name; certain types of 



fish weir and animal trap, as well as a particular way of catching 
sea turtles by skewering a line through the tail of a sucker fish and 
allowing it then to swim out and attach itself to the bottom of a 
turtle; slit-log drums and a considerable battery of characteristic 
musical instruments; nude female figurines (guess who!); etc., etc. 
ad infinitum-mot to mention again the bottle- gourd, the coconut, 
the amaranth, and the weaving of an Asiatic cotton. 

Professor Robert Heine- Gel dem has proposed a well- articulated, 
precisely documented theory, based on the concept of a prehistoric 
drcum- Pacific culture zone, represented by an art style probably 
native to eastern Asia and perhaps dating from as early as the 
third millennium B.c. Its characteristic sculptural form is well 
typified in the totem poles of the American Northwest Coast: 
combinations of heraldic, genealogical, or mythological human and 
animal figures arranged in vertical series. Another characteristic 
motif, also exhibited in the arts of the Northwest Coast, appears 
in weaving and bark- cloth designs, tattoo motifs, painting, and 
low relief: the bird, fish, animal, or human form to be represented 
being split down the back or front, opened out like a book, and 
displayed thus, as though hinged. Still another motif is the human 
figure in a broad squat, frequently with its tongue out flat and 
down over the chin— a form that we recognize immediately as one 
of the postures of the Greek Medusa, the Gorgon whose head 
Perseus took in Africa just before his rescue of the maid Androm- 
eda from the serpent. Throughout the circum- Pacific culture zone 
the great serpent, the cosmic serpent, as spouse of the goddess and 
as a variously manipulated motif in art, is a prominent feature. 
As Heine- Geldem has shown, the particular idiosyncrasies of this 
Old Pacific Style, both compositional and thematic, can be readily 
identified not only in the arts of the Northwest Coast but in 
Melanesia (New Ireland and parts of New Guinea), as well as 
among the Dyaks of Borneo, Bataks of Sumatra, and Igorots of 
the Philippines— that is to say, precisely in the province of our 
maiden Dema Hainuwele. And finally. Professor Heine- Geldem 
has demonstrated that traits of this style entered into the arts of 
early dynastic China— successively, Shang (1523-1027 B.c.), 
Early Chou (1027-771 B.C.), and Late Chou (771-221 B.c.) — 



where they combined with traits derived by diffusion from the 
great culture matrix of the Near East, and then were carried by 
Chinese ships to Indonesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia, and to North 
and South America, appearing, specifically, in the arts of the 
Northwest Coast, Middle America, Peru, and the Amazon Basin . 50 

Further, when the patterns of the higher civilizations of the 
great Maya-Aztec and Peruvian late periods are compared with 
their counterparts in Egypt and Mesopotamia, India and China, 
we find, among a multitude of other analogies: a basic neolithic 
complex, comprising agriculture and stock-breeding (in America, 
the llama, alpaca, and turkey), matting, basketiy, painted pottery, 
both coarse and fine, loom weaving with elegant patterns, using 
both wool and an Asiatic cotton, metallurgy in gold, silver, tin, 
platinum, and smelted copper, with alloys of copper-tin, copper- 
lead, copper- arsenic, copper- silver, and gold- silver, employing the 
tire-perdue method for the casting of sculptured figures, and 
fashioning, among other products, golden bells; a highly developed 
calendric system yielding a pattern of interlocking large and 
smaller cycles, an assignment of deities to the various heavenly 
spheres and a notion of the horoscope, the idea of cycles of creation 
and dissolution, the mythological figure of the Cosmic Tree with 
an eagle at its summit and a serpent at its root; the guardian gods 
and four colors of the four directions, the four elements (fire, air, 
earth, and water), heavens stratified above and hells below, a 
weaving goddess of the moon, and a god who dies and is resur- 
rected. Furthermore, on the sociological side we find: four social 
classes— priests, nobles, agriculturalists (common people), and 
slaves— with insignia of kingship almost precisely duplicating those 
of the ancient world: fan bearers, scepters, canopies, palanquins, 
and the blown conch as royal trumpet; the idea of the city as 
capital of an empire, approached by causeways and embellished by 
ornamented temples and palaces, the temples atop pyramids, almost 
precisely as in Mesopotamia, and the architecture including 
colonnades, spiral staircases, sculptured doorways, lintels, pillars, 
etc.; arts including mosaics, high and low relief, carved jade, 
murals in fresco, memorial monuments, and the writing of books. 

The crucial dates may be summarized about as follows. 



I. Formative Horizon (c. 1500-c. 500 B.C.) 

(Compare Old World basal and high neolithic) 

1. Earliest known agriculture and pottery strata: from c. 1500 B.c. 

Huaca Prieta bottle gourds, bark cloth, and cotton: c. 10 16 ± 
300 B.c. 

Guanape ceramic complex (Peru)— early negative pottery, 
weaving, maize: c. 1250(?)-c. 850 B.c. 

Zacatenco ceramic complex (Mexico)— fine, painted pottery 
and figurines: c. 1500(?)-c. 1000 B.c. 

2. Developed, "Pre-Classic" elite styles: from c. 1000 B.c. 

Chavrn complex (Peru)— goldwork, colossal architecture and 
sculpture, jaguar cult: c. 850-500 B.C. 

Olmec complex (Mexico)— lapidary art in jade, pyramids, 
and great stone heads, jaguar cult: c. 1000-c. 500 B.c. 

II. Classic Horizon (c. 500 B.C.-C. 500 A.D.) 
(Compare Old World hieratic city states) 

Pre-Maya (Chicanel) 
(424B.C.-57A.D.) * 
Calendar, writing, stone and 
stucco ceremonial architecture. 
Early Maya (Tzakol) 
(57-373A.D.) * 

Great stone temple-cities (Tikal 
and Uaxactun) with corbeled 
roofs and arches, carved stone 
monuments, polychrome ce- 

Late Maya (Tepeuh) 
(373-727A.D.) * 

Many new temple- cities, climax- 
ing c. 530 A.D.; superlative 
sculptural achievements (viz., 
Piedras Negras) ; diffusion of in- 
fluence, but then decline: aban- 
donment of many cities (reason 
unknown). Florescence, also, of 
Tajin (Gulf Coast) and Ulua 
(Honduras) styles. 


Salinar/ Gallinazo 

(c. 500-c. 300 B.c.) 

Fine ceramic, brick pyramids, 
domesticated llamas, developed 
weaving and metallurgy. 

Moche, Nazca, and Early Tia- 

(c. 300 B.C.-c. 500A.D.) 
Richly developed agriculture 
with many crops (maize, beans, 
peanuts, potatoes, sweet pota- 
toes, chili peppers, manioc, 
pumpkins, bottle gourds, cotton, 
coco, quinoa, etc.); irrigation 
works, enormous temple-pyra- 
mids of brick, murals; a hierati- 
cally organized society; dwell- 
ings of brick or stone; exqui- 
site pottery; metalwork in gold, 
gold alloys, and copper. Metal in 
coastal north (Moche), tapestry 
south (Nazca), stone in high- 

* See footnote on page 214. 



III. Historic Horizon (c. 500-1521/33 A.D.) 

League of May apan 

(727- 934 AD.) * 

Advent of a new people from 
the southwest: introduction of 
a new religion, new customs, 
and new architecture (including 
numerous motifs suggesting a 
ftesh influence from Southeast 
Asia); 51 revival of older dties 
(Chichen Itza) and the found- 
ing of new (Mayapan, Uxmal); 
the period dosing with a dev- 
astating war between Chichen 
Itza and Mayapan. 


(908- 1168/ C. 1150- 1350 A.D.) 
Mixcoatl, a barbarian from the 
north, founds the Toltec empire, 
his son being the fabulous 
Quetzalooatl, whose age was the 
Golden Age of Tula, when '"the 
cotton grew naturally in all 
colors." Tula was destroyed 
1168 A.D.; the empire dissolved, 
and the lead passed for two cen- 
turies to the Mixtecs of coastal 


(c. 1337-1521 A.D.) 

The final empire of native Mex- 
ico, conquered by Cortes, 1521. 


Late Tiahuanaco 

(c. 500-1000 A.D.) 

Expansion of the highland (Ti- 
ahuanaoo) influence over the 
coastal areas (Moche, Nazca); 
enormous megalithic monu- 
ments; elegant gold, silver, and 
copper crafts; gilding, casting, 
annealing silverplating; superb 
pottery (polychrome ware in 
Nazca area, three-dimensional 
figures in north), textiles (of 
wool and cotton), tapestries and 
stone- carving. 


(c. 1000-1440 A.D.) 

A period of wars and fortified 
refuge places, alliances and co- 
alitions; new kingdoms and new 
dties (the "dty-builder peri- 
od"); flowering of the great 
Chimu metropolis, Chanchan 
(near present Trujillo): dght 
square miles of walls, streets, 
reservoirs, and pyramids of 
brick; effident but uninventive 
industrial arts and crafts. 


(c. 1440-1533 A.D.) 

The final empire of native Peru, 
conquered by Pizarro, 1533. 

* The dates from 424 B.C. to 934 A.D. are based on Spinden's correlation 
of the Mayan calendar with our own. If the Thompson- Goodman corre- 
lation is preferred, the dates should be 260 years later. For a justification 
of the earlier series, see Covarrubias, Indian Art of Mexico and Central 
America, p. 218; also, Willey and Phillips, Method and Theory in Ameri- 
can Archaeology, p. 185, note 3. 


The summary is necessarily rough, for the datings are not yet 
firm and the authorities differ considerably. 1 " 2 

The "classic horizon" here is placed very much later, obviously, 
than the comparable developments even in China, where, in 
contrast to Mesopotamia (3200 B.C.), Egypt (2800 B.c.), Crete 
and India (2600 B.c.), the high culture style with writing, the 
calendar, and the hieratic heavenly order of the state did not appear 
until c. 1523 B.C. The powerful Han Empire was in full career 
from 202 B.C. to 220 A.D., sending its great ships around Indo- 
china in trade with Rome. The Dong- son of northeastern Indo- 
china were masters of the southern seas from c. 333 B.C. to c. 
50 A.D., as were the merchant mariners of southeast India, Java, 
Sumatra, and Cambodia, from perhaps the early seventh century 
to the close of the twelfth century A.D. Not only are the character- 
istic elements of the Middle American "classic horizon" char- 
acteristic also of Asia (stepped pyramids, corbeled vault architec- 
ture, certain types of tomb, hieroglyphic writing combined with a 
mature calendrical and astronomical science, well developed stone 
sculpture), but also, as Dr. Gordon Eckholm has shown, 53 many 
motifs of the Mayan "historic horizon" suggest specifically con- 
temporary India, J ava, and Cambodia; e.g., the trefoil arch, tiger 
throne, lotus staff and lotus throne, conch shell associated with 
plants, cross and sacred tree (often with a monster mask in the 
center and bird in the upper branches), serpent columns and bal- 
ustrades, seated lions and tigers, copper bells. . . . And are we 
still to suppose that America remained inviolate? 

If it did, then psychology has a far greater task ahead, comparing 
the feats of duplication, than archaeology or ethnology would face 
if it were merely a six- thousand- mile voyage across the Pacific, 
c. 1500 B.C., that had to be explained. 

"Could such feats of duplication take place, guided only by the 
parallel structure of men's minds and bodies," asks Professor 
Gordon R. Willey, "or was the cultural germ transplanted across 
the oceans?" 54 

One well may wonder. 



VI. The Ritual Love- Death in Pre-Columbian 

The best-known North American example of the mythologem of 
the divine bang who was killed and planted, to become the food of 
man, is that of the Qjibway of the Great Lakes region, whose 
mythology, as recorded in the 1820s by the young United States 
government agent Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864), became 
the source and inspiration of Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha. 
Schoolcraft's wife was a Christianized Indian; some of his in-laws 
were full-fledged savages. The language in which the myths were 
communicated to him was consequently nether pidgin English nor 
pidgin Ojibway, but a fluent and natural native prose. We must 
pardon his style, therefore, if it does not approximate that of our 
contemporary collectors of Indian lore, whose comparatively brief 
visits with their "informants" have conduced to the development 
among them of a curiously choppy, ostensibly primitive, purely 
anthropological prose style that is actually nether here nor there 
and serves to underplay the delicacy and sophistication of native 
thought Schoolcraft erred, we may say, on the side of literary 
embroidery; but at least no one is in danger of mistaking his prose 
for a literal translation. 

Here is his rendition of "The Legend of Mondawmin, or The 
Origin of Indian Com," which became the source of Longfellow's 
Chapter V : ' 'Hiawatha's Fasting. ' ' 

In times past a poor Indian was living with his wife and chil- 
dren in a beautiful part of the country. He was not only poor, 
but inexpert in procuring food for his family, and his children 
were all too young to give him assistance. Although poor, he 
was a man of a kind and contented disposition. He was always 
thankful to the Great Spirit for everything he received. The 
same disposition was inherited by his eldest son, who had now 
arrived at the proper age to undertake the ceremony of Ke-ig- 
nish-im-o-win, or fast, to see what kind of spirit would be his 
guide and guardian through life. 

Wunzh, for this was his name, had been an obedient boy 
from his infancy, and was of a pensive, thoughtful, and mild 
disposition, so that he was beloved by the whole family. As 
soon as the first indications of spring appeared, they built him 



the customary little lodge, at a retired spot some distance from 
their own, where he would not be disturbed during this solemn 
rite. In the meantime he prepared himself, and immediately 
went into it and commenced his fast. 

The first few days he amused himself in the mornings by 
walking in the woods and over the mountains, examining the 
early plants and flowers, and in this way prepared himself to 
enjoy his sleep, and, at the same time, stored his mind with 
pleasant ideas for his dreams. While he rambled through the 
woods, he felt a strong desire to know how the plants, herbs, 
and berries grew, without any aid from man, and why it was 
that some species were good to eat, and others possessed 
medicinal or poisonous juices. He recalled these thoughts 
to mind after he became too languid to walk about, and had 
confined himself strictly to the lodge; he wished he could 
dream of something that would prove a benefit to his father 
and family, and to all others. "True!" he thought, "the Great 
Spirit made all things, and it is to him that we owe our lives. 
But could he not make it easier for us to get our food, than by 
hunting animals and taking fish? I must try to find this out in 
my visions." 

On the third day he became weak and faint, and kept his bed. 
He fancied, while thus lying, that he saw a handsome young 
man coming down from the sky and advancing toward him. 
He was richly and gaily dressed, having on a great many 
garments of green and yellow colors, but differing in their 
deeper or lighter shades. He had a plume of waving feathers 
on his head, and all his motions were graceful. 

"I am salt to you, my friend," said the celestial visitor, "by 
that Great Spirit who made all things in the sky and on earth. 
He has sear and knows your motives in fasting. He sees that 
it is from a kind and benevolent wish to do good to your 
people, and to procure a benefit for them, and that you do 
not seek for strength in war or the praise of warriors. I am 
sent to instruct you, and show you how you can do your 
kindred good." 

He then told the young man to arise and prepare to wrestle 
with him, as it was only by this means that he could hope to 
succeed in his wishes. Wunzh knew he was weak from fasting, 
but he felt his courage rising in his heart, and immediately got 
up, determined to die rather than fail. He commenced the 
trial, and, after a protracted effort, was almost exhausted, 
when the beautiful stranger said, "My friend, it is enough for 
once; I will come again to try you"; and, smiling on him, he 



ascended in the air in the same direction from which he 

The next day the celestial visitor reappeared at the same hour 
and renewed the trial. Wunzh felt that his strength was even 
less than the day before, but the courage of his mind seemed 
to increase in proportion, as his body became weaker. Seeing 
this, the stranger again spoke to him, in the same words he had 
used before, adding, "Tomorrow will be your last trial. Be 
strong, my friend, for this is the only way you can overcome 
me and obtain the boon you seek." 

On the third day he again appeared at the same time and re- 
newed the struggle. The poor youth was very faint in body, 
but grew stronger in mind at every contest, and was de- 
termined to prevail or perish in the attempt. He exerted his 
utmost powers, and after the contest had been continued the 
usual time, the stranger ceased his efforts and declared himself 
conquered. For the first time he entered the lodge, and 
sitting down beside the youth, he began to deliver his instruc- 
tions to him, telling him in what manner he should proceed to 
take advantage of the victory. 

"You have won your desires of the Great Spirit," said the 
stranger. "You have wrestled manfully. Tomorrow will be the 
seventh day of your fasting. Your father will give you food to 
strengthen you, and as it is the last day of trial, you will pre- 
vail. I know this, and now tell you what you must do to 
benefit your family and your tribe. Tomorrow," he repeated, 
"I shall meet you and wrestle with you for the last time; and, 
as soon as you have prevailed against me, you will strip ofF 
my garments and throw me down, clean the earth of roots 
and weeds, make it soft, and bury me in the spot. When you 
have done this, leave my body in the earth, and do not disturb 
it, but come occasionally to visit the place, to see whether I 
have come to life, and be careful never to let the grass or 
weeds grow on my grave. Once a month cover me with fresh 
earth. If you follow my instructions, you will accomplish your 
object of doing good to your fellow creatures by teaching them 
the knowledge I now teach you." He then shook him by the 
hand and disappeared. 

In the morning the youth's father came with some slight re- 
freshments, saying, "My son, you have fasted long enough. 
If the Great Spirit will favor you, he will do it now. It is 
seven days since you have tasted food, and you must not 
sacrifice your life. The Master of Life does not require that." 

"My father," replied the youth, "wait till the sun goes down. 



I have a particular reason for extending my fast to that hour. " 

"Very well," said the old man, "I shall wait till the hour ar- 
rives, and you feel inclined to eat. " 

At the usual hour of the day the sky visitor returned, and the 
trial of strength was renewed. Although the youth had not 
availed himself of his father's offer of food, he felt that new 
strength had been given to him, and that exertion had renewed 
his strength and fortified his courage. He grasped his angelic 
antagonist with supernatural strength, threw him down, took 
from him his beautiful garments and plume, and finding him 
dead, immediately buried him on the spot, taking all the pre- 
cautions he had been told of, and being very confident, at the 
same time, that his friend would again come to life. 

He then returned to his father's lodge, and partook sparingly 
of the meal that had been prepared for him. But he never for 
a moment forgot the grave of his friend. He carefully visited 
it throughout the spring, and weeded out the grass, and kept 
the ground in a soft and pliant state. Very soon he saw the 
tops of the green plumes coming through the ground; and the 
more careful he was to obey his instructions in keeping the 
ground in order, the faster they grew. He was, however, 
careful to conceal the exploit from his father. 

Days and weeks had passed in this way. The summer was 
now drawing toward a close, when one day, after a long 
absence in hunting, Wunzh invited his father to follow him 
to the quiet and lonesome spot of his former fast. The lodge 
had been removed, and the weeds kept from growing on the 
circle where it stood, but in its place stood a tall and graceful 
plant, with bright- colored silken hair, surmounted with nod- 
ding plumes and stately leaves, and golden dusters on each 

"it is my friend," shouted the lad; "it is the friend of all man- 
kind. It is Mondawmin ('maize'). We need no longer rely on 
hunting alone; for, as long as this gift is cherished and taken 
care of, the ground itself will give us a living." He then pulled 
an ear. "See, my father," said he, "this is what I fasted for. The 
Great Spirit has listened to my voice, and sent us something 
new, and henceforth our people will not alone depend upon 
the chase or upon the waters." 

He then communicated to his father the instructions given 
him by the stranger. He told him that the broad husks must 
be tom away, as he had pulled ofF the garments in his 
wrestling; and having done this, showed him how the ear 
must be held before the fire till the outer skin became brown. 



while all the milk was retained in the grain. The whole family 
then united in a feast on the newly grown ears, expressing 
gratitude to the Merciful Spirit who gave it. So com came 
into the world, and has ever since been preserved. 55 

An excellent South American example of the same mythologem 
was recorded by Theodor Koch-Grunberg during his expedition 
to the jungles of the upper Amazonian basin in the years 1903- 
1905. Primitive as the people of that almost impenetrable green 
hell appear and savage as they certainly are, they cultivate a num- 
ber of food plants, the most important of which is manioc (cas- 
sava), a vegetable containing a lethal poison (hydrocyanic acid), 
which has to be removed by cooking before the nourishing root- 
stock can be consumed. The women— whose customary costume 
is their own skin with all body hair removed— plant their manioc 
in gardens cleared in the jungles by the men, while the latter— 
whose attire is never more than a meager shred or string of pubic 
covering or decoration— hunt, fish, and try to ambush the best- 
looking women of the neighboring tribes. Besides yielding the staple 
nourishment of these people and the poison for their blowgun 
darts, manioc renders a weak yet adequate intoxicant as well, 
which contributes considerably to the spirit of their dancing 
feasts; and so it is a plant that combines remarkably all the 
mysteries of the Dema. It is at once life-supporting, death- 
administering, and spirit-rousing. 

However, the art of raising, preparing and enjoying this 
wondrous plant (from which we, by the way, derive tapioca) is 
but one of the wonders of the heritage of these jungle inhabitants 
(who, surely, cannot be as simple as they seem!); for they play 
at their festivals a large battery of musical instruments, by no 
means primitive; trumpets of bark and of wood, both great and 
small, clarionets, flutes and flageolets, ocarinas, pan pipes, and a 
kind of "roarer" made of a tube blown into ajar— besides the well- 
known slit-log drums of Frobenius' "equatorial" zone, and a sort 
of hollow wooden cylinder, upwards of three feet long, which is 
struck end down, like a pestle, upon the ground. In the legend of 
the wonderful sun-boy Milomaki, which Professor Koch-Grunberg 
recorded among the cannibalistic Yahuna, who occupy an area on 



the left bank of the lower Apaporis River that is practically on 
the equator (latitude 2 degrees south) and about at the border of 
Colombia and Brazil (longitude 70 degrees west), we learn of the 
origin not only of the food plants and first-fruits festival of these 
people, but also of the curious music of the flutes and reeds to the 
tones of which the rites are celebrated: 

From the great Water House, the Land of the Sun, there 
came, many years ago, a little boy who sang so beautifully that 
many people flocked from near and far to see and hear him; 
and the name of this boy was Milomaki. But when those 
who had heard him returned to their homes and ate fish, they 
all died. Hence their relatives seized Milomaki, who mean- 
while had grown to young manhood, and because he was so 
dangerous, having killed their brothers, they cremated him 
on a great pyre. Nevertheless, the youth continued to sing 
beautifully to the very end, and even while the flames were 
licking his body he was singing: "Now 1 die, now I die, now I 
die, my Son, now I depart from this world!" And when his body 
was swelling with the heat, he still was singing in glorious tones: 
"Now my body breaks, now I am dead!" And his body burst. 

He died and was consumed by the flames, but his soul 
ascended to heaven, while from his ashes there grew, that very 
day, a long, green blade, which became steadily bigger and 
bigger, spreading out, until the next day it was already a tall 
tree— the first paxiuba palm in the world. . . . 

The people fashioned huge flutes of the wood of this palm 
and these gave forth the same wonderfully beautiful tones that 
formerly had been sung by Milomaki himself. Furthermore, 
the men blow on such flutes to this day when the fruits are 
ripe, and they dance, while doing so, in memory of Milomaki, 
who is the creator and giver of all fruits. But the women and 
children must not see these flutes; for if they did, they would 
die. 56 

Ultimately— as we now know— the art of cultivating maize was 
derived by the North American Indians from either Mexico or 
Peru, the great centers of high civilization in the New World. And 
so we shall conclude the present brief sampling of the variant 
forms of our mythologem with an example from the Aztecs. Sir 
J ames G. Frazer, in The Golden Bough, supplies an instance from 
the vivid account of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun: 



At a great festival in September, which was preceded by a 
strict fast of seven days, they sanctified a young slave girl of 
twelve or thirteen years, the prettiest they could find, to 
represent the Maize Goddess Chicomecohuatl. They invested 
her with the ornaments of the goddess, putting a mitre on her 
head and maize- cobs round her neck and in her hands, and 
fastening a green feather upright on the crown of her head to 
imitate an ear of maize. This they did, we are told, in order to 
signify that the maize was almost ripe at the time of the 
festival, but because it was still tender they chose a girl of 
tender years to play the part of the Maize Goddess. The 
whole long day they led the poor child in all her finery, with 
the green plume nodding on her head, from house to house 
dancing merrily to cheer people after the dullness and priva- 
tions of the fast. 

In the evening all the people assembled at the temple, the 
courts of which they lit up by a multitude of lanterns and 
candles. There they passed the night without sleeping, and at 
midnight, while the trumpets, flutes, and horns discoursed 
solemn music, a portable framework or palanquin was brought 
forth, bedecked with festoons of maize- cobs and peppers and 
filled with seeds of all sorts. This the bearers set down at the 
door of the chamber in which the wooden image of the god- 
dess stood. Now the chamber was adorned and wreathed, 
both outside and inside, with wreaths of maize- cobs, peppers, 
pumpkins, roses, and seeds of every kind, a wonder to be- 
hold; the whole floor was covered deep with these verdant 
offerings of the pious. When the music ceased, a solemn pro- 
cession came forth of priests and dignitaries, with flaring lights 
and smoking censers, leading in their midst the girl who played 
the part of the goddess. Then they made her mount the frame- 
work, where she stood upright on the maize and peppers and 
pumpkins with which it was strewed, her hands resting on two 
banisters to keep her from falling. Then the priests swung the 
smoking censers round her; the music struck up again, and 
while it played, a great dignitary of the temple suddenly 
stepped up to her with a razor in his hand and adroitly shore 
off the green feather she wore on her head, together with the 
hair in which it was fastened, snipping the lock off by the root. 
The feather and the hair he then presented to the wooden image 
of the goddess with great solemnity and elaborate ceremonies, 
weeping and giving her thanks for the fruits of the earth and 
the abundant crops which she had bestowed on the people that 
year; and as he wept and prayed, all the people, standing in 



the courts of the temple, wept and prayed with him. When 
that ceremony was over, the girl descended from the frame- 
work and was escorted to the place where she was to spend 
the rest of the night. But all the people kept watch in the 
courts of the temple by the light of torches till break of day. 
The morning being come, and the courts of the temple being 
still crowded by the multitude, who would have deemed it 
sacrilege to quit the precincts, the priests again brought forth 
the damsel attired in the costume of the goddess, with the 
mitre on her head and the cobs of maize about her neck. 
Again she mounted the portable framework or palanquin 
and stood on it, supporting herself by her hands on the 
banisters. Then the elders of the temple lifted it on their 
shoulders, and while some swung burning censers and others 
played on instruments or sang, they carried it in procession 
through the great courtyard to the hall of the god Huit- 
zilopochtli and then back to the chamber, where stood the 
wooden image of the Maize Goddess, whom the girl per- 
sonated. There they caused the damsel to descend from the 
palanquin and to stand on the heaps of com and vegetables 
that had been spread in profusion on the floor of the sacred 
chamber. While she stood there all the elders and nobles 
came in a line, one behind the other, carrying saucers full of 
dry and clotted blood which they had drawn from their ears 
by way of penance during the seven days' fast. One by one they 
squatted on their haunches before her, which was the equiva- 
lent of falling on their knees with us, and scraping the crust 
of blood from the saucer cast it down before her as an offer- 
ing in return for the benefits which she, as the embodiment 
of the Maize Goddess, had conferred upon them. When the 
men had thus humbly offered their blood to the human repre- 
sentative of the goddess, the women, forming a long line, did 
so likewise, each of them dropping on her hams before the 
girl and scraping her blood from the saucer. The ceremony 
lasted a long time, for great and small, young and old, all 
without exception had to pass before the incarnate deity and 
make their offering. When it was over, the people returned 
home with glad hearts to feast on flesh and viands of every 
sort as merrily, we are told, as good Christians at Easter 
partake of meat and other carnal mercies after the long 
abstinence of Lent. And when they had eaten and drunk 
their fill and rested after the night watch, they returned quite 
refreshed to the temple to see the end of the festival. And the 
end of the festival was this. The multitude being assembled. 



the priests solemnly incensed the girl who personated the 
goddess; then they threw her on her back on the heap of com 
and seeds, cut off her head, caught the gushing blood in a tub, 
and sprinkled the blood on the wooden image of the goddess, 
the walls of the chamber, and the offerings of com, peppers, 
pumpkins, seeds, and vegetables which cumbered the floor. 
After that they flayed the headless trunk, and one of the 
priests made shift to squeeze himself into the bloody skin. 
Having done so they clad him in all the robes which the girl 
had worn; they put the mitre on his head, the necklace of 
golden maize- cobs about his neck, the maize- cobs of feathers 
and gold in his hands; and thus arrayed they led him forth in 
public, all of them dancing to the tuck of drum, while he 
acted as fugleman, skipping and posturing at the head of the 
procession as briskly as he could be expected to do, incom- 
moded as he was by the tight and clammy skin of the girl and 
by her clothes, which must have been much too small for a 
grown man . 57 

No wonder, we may say, if the Spanish padres thought they 
recognized in the liturgies of the New World a devil's parody of 
their own high myth and holy mass of the sacrifice and resurrec- 

One version of the mythological event at the beginning of time 
which supplied the model for this rite tells that as the goddess 
Tlalteutli was walking alone upon the face of the primordial waters 
—a great and wonderful maiden, with eyes and jaws at every 
joint that could see and bite like animals— she was spied by the 
two primary gods Quetzalcoatl (the Plumed Serpent) and Tez- 
catlipoca (the Smoking Mirror); whereupon, deciding that they 
should create the world of her, they transformed themselves into 
mighty serpents and came at her from either side. One seized her 
from the right hand to the left foot, the other from the left hand 
to the right foot, and together they ripped her asunder. From the 
parts they fashioned not only the earth and heavens, but also the 
gods. And then to comfort the goddess for what had happened to 
her, all the gods came down and, paying her obeisance, com- 
manded that there should come from her all the fruits that men 
require for their life. And so, from her hair they made trees, 
flowers, and grass; from her eyes springs, fountains, and the little 



caves; from her mouth rivers and the great caves; hem her nose 
valleys, and from her shoulders mountains. But the goddess wept 
all night, for she had a craving to consume human hearts. And 
she would not be quiet until they were brought to her. Nor would 
she bear fruit until she had been drenched with human blood . 58 

Chapter 6 


I. The Shaman and the Priest 

Among the Indians of North 
America two contrasting mythologies appear, according to whether 
tribes are hunters or planters. Those that are primarily hunters 
emphasize in their religious life the individual last for the gaining of 
visions. The boy of twelve or thirteen is left by his father in some 
lonesome place, with a little fire to keep the beasts away, and there 
he fasts and prays, four days or more, until some spiritual visitant 
comes in dream, in human or animal form, to speak to him and 
give him power. His later career will be determined by this vision; 
for his familiar may confer the power to cure people as a shaman, 
the power to attract and slaughter animals, or the ability to be- 
come a warrior. And if the benefits gained are not sufficient, for the 
young man's ambition, he may fast again, as often as he likes. An 
Old Crow Indian named One Blue Bead told of such a fast. "When 
I was a boy," he said, "I was poor. I saw war parties come back 
with leaders in front and having a procession. I used to envy them 
and I made up my mind to fast and become like them. When I saw 
the vision I got what I had longed for. ... I killed right 
enemies." 1 If a man has bad luck, he knows that his gilt of 
supernatural power simply is insufficient; while, on the other 
hand, the groat shamans and war leaders have acquired power in 
abundance from their visionary fasts. Perhaps they have chopped 
off and offered their finger joints. Such offerings were common 
among the Indians of the plains, on some of whose old hands 




there remained only fingers and joints enough to enable them to 
notch an arrow and draw the bow. 

Among the planting tribes— the Hopi, Zuni, and other Pueblo 
dwellers— life is organized around the rich and complex ceremonies 
of their masked gods. These are elaborate rites in which the whole 
community participates, scheduled according to a religious cal- 
endar and conducted by societies of trained priests. As Ruth 
Benedict observed in her Patterns of Culture: "No field of activity 
competes with ritual for foremost place in their attention. Probably 
most grown men among the western Pueblos give to it the 
greater part of their waking life. It requires the memorizing of an 
amount of word-perfect ritual that our less trained minds find 
staggering, and the performance of neatly dovetailed ceremonies 
that are chartered by the calendar and complexly interlock all 
the different cults and the governing body in endless formal 
procedure. " 2 In such a society there is little room for individual 
play. There is a rigid relationship not only of the individual to 
his fellows, but also of village life to the calendric cycle; for the 
planters are intensely aware of their dependency upon the gods 
of the elements. One short period of too much or too little rain 
at the critical moment, and a whole year of labor results in 
famine. Whereas for the hunter— hunter's luck is a very different 

We have already read one typical account of an American 
Indian's quest for his vision in the legend of the origin of maize. 
The Ojibway tribe, from whom that version of this widely spread 
legend was derived, were on a cultural level, when Schoolcraft 
lived among them, approximately equivalent to that of the 
Natufians of the archaic Near East, c. 600C B.c. They were a 
hunting and fighting people of Algonquin stock, and their main 
body of myths and tales was of a hunting, not a planting, tradition. 
Nevertheless, they had recently acquired from the agricultural 
peoples of the much more highly developed south the arts of 
planting, reaping, and preparing maize, which they were now 
using to supplement their gains from the chase. And with the 
maize had come the old, old myth of the wonderful plant- Dema, 
which we first encountered among the cannibals of Indonesia and 



saw as having crossed the Pacific with the cocopalm. In South 
America it has been applied by hundreds of tribes to the various 
food plants of that richly fruitful continent, and here, in North 
America, we have found it again, accommodated not only to the 
tall green growth and feathered crest of the maize, but also to an 
alien style of mythological thought, that of the vision. We do not 
hear in this tale of a great group, the "people" of the mythological 
age, but of a single youth— just such a boy as each would be in 
his own visionary quest in that great solitude of which our Eskimo 
shaman, Igjugarjuk, has already told, which "can open the mind 
of a man to all that is hidden to others." 

The contrast between the two world views may be seen more 
sharply by comparing the priest and the shaman. The priest is the 
socially initiated, ceremonially inducted member of a recognized 
religious organization, where he holds a certain rank and functions 
as the tenant of an office that was held by others before him, 
while the shaman is one who, as a consequence of a personal 
psychological crisis, has gained a certain power of his own. The 
spiritual visitants who came to him in vision had never been seen 
before by any other; they were his particular familiars and pro- 
tectors. The masked gods of the Pueblos, on the other hand, the 
com- gods and the cloud- gods, served by societies of strictly 
organized and very orderly priests, are the well-known patrons of 
the entire village and have been prayed to and represented in the 
ceremonial dances since time out of mind. 

In the origin legend of the Jicarilla Apache Indians of New 
Mexico there is an excellent illustration of the capitulation of the 
style of religiosity represented by the shamanism of a hunting tribe 
to the greater force of the more stable, socially organized and 
maintained priestly order of a planting- culture complex. The 
Apache, like their cousins the Navaho, were a hunting tribe that 
entered the area of the maize- growing Pueblos in the fourteenth 
century A.D. and assimilated, with characteristic adaptations, much 
of the local neolithic ceremonial lore . 3 The myth in question is 
fundamental to their present concept of the nature and history of 
the universe and is dearly of southern derivation, assodated with 
the rites and sorial order of a planting culture, and— as we shall 



see— concerned rather to integrate the individual in a firmly 
ordered, well-established communal context than to release him 
for the nights of his own wild genius, wheresoever they may lead. 

"In the beginning," we are told, "nothing was here where the 
world now stands: no earth— nothing but Darkness, Water, and 
Cyclone. There were no people living. Only the Hactcin existed. 
It was a lonely place. There were no fishes, no living things. But 
all the Hactcin were here from the beginning. They had the 
material out of which everything was created. They made the 
world first, the earth, the underworld, and then they made the 
sky. They made Earth in the form of a living woman and called 
her Mother. They made Sky in the form of a man and called him 
Father. He faces downward, and the woman faces up. He is our 
father and the woman is our mother ." 4 

The Hactcin are the Apache counterparts of the masked gods 
of the Pueblo villages: personifications of the powers that support 
the spectacle of nature. The most powerful of their number. Black 
Hactcin— the myth continues— made an animal of clay and then 
spoke to it. "Let me see how you are going to walk on those four 
feet," he said. Then it began to walk. "That's pretty good," said 
the Hactcin. "I can use you." And then he said, "But you are all 
alone. I shall make it so that you shall have others from your 
body." And then all sorts of animals came from that one body; 
for Black Hactcin had power: he could do anything. At that time 
all those animals could speak, and they spoke the J icarilla Apache 

The world creator. Black Hactcin, held out his hand, and a 
drop of rain fell into the palm. He mixed this with earth and it 
became mud. Then he fashioned a bird from the mud. "Let me 
see how you are going to use those wings to fly," he said. The mud 
turned into a bird and flew around. "Well, that's just fine!" said 
Black Hactcin, who enjoyed seeing the difference between this 
one and the ones with four legs. "But," he said, "I think you need 
companions. " Then he took the bird and whirled it around rapidly 
in a clockwise direction. The bird grew dizzy, and, as one does 
when dizzy, saw many images round about. He saw all kinds of 
birds there, eagles, hawks, and small birds too, and when he was 



himself again, there were all those birds, really there. And birds 
love the air, dwell high, and seldom light on the ground, because 
the drop of water that became the mud out of which the first bird 
was made fell from the sky. 

The clockwise whirling image from which the birds of the air 
were produced suggests those designs on the earliest Samarra 
pottery of the Mesopotamian high neolithic (c. 4500-3500 B.C.) * 
where the forms of animals and birds emerge from a whirling 
swastika, and it is surely by no mere accident or parallel develop- 
ment that similar designs— as those in the figures below— occur 
among the prehistoric North American mound-builder remains. 

Designs from shell gorgets, Spiro Mound, Oklahoma 

or that in the ritual life and symbolism of the present Indians of 
the Southwest— the Pueblos, Navaho, and Apache— the swastika 
plays a prominent part. This circumstance, however, may supply 
us not only with additional evidence of a broad cultural diffusion, 
but also with a due to the sense of the swastika in the earliest neo- 
lithic art and cult, both in the Old World and in the New. 

The creator whirled the bird in a clockwise direction and the 
result was an emanation of dreamlike forms. But swastikas, coun- 
ter-clockwise, appear on many Chinese images of the meditating 
Buddha; and the Buddha, we know, is removing his consdousness 
from just this field of dreamlike, created forms— reuniting it through 
yogic exercise with that primordial abyss or "void" from which all 

* Cf. supra, pp. 140- 143. 

Designs from shell gorgets. 

Spiro Mound, Oklahoma 



Stars, darkness, a lamp, a phantom, dew, a bubble, 

A dream, a flash of lightning, or a cloud: 

Thus should one look upon the world. 5 

This we read in a celebrated Buddhist text. The Diamond- Cutter 
Sutra, which has had an immense influence on Oriental thought. 

Now I am not going to suggest that there has been any Buddhist 
influence on Apache mythology. There has not! However, the 
poignant thought that Calderon, the great Spanish playwright, ex- 
pressed in his work La Vida es Sueno ("Life is a Dream"), and 
that his contemporary, Shakespeare, represented when he wrote 

We are such stuff 

As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep, 6 

was a basic theme of the Hindu philosophers in the earliest phase 
of their tradition; and if we may judge from the evidence of cer- 
tain little figures in yoga posture dating from c. 2000 B.C. that 
have been found in the ancient ruins of the Indus Valley, this 
trance- inducing exercise must already have been developed in the 
earliest Indian hieratic city states. One of the best- known forms 
of the Hindu deity Vishnu shows him sleeping on the coils of the 
cosmic serpent, floating on the cosmic sea and dreaming the lotus- 
dream of the universe, of which we all are a part. What I am now 
suggesting, therefore, is that in this Apache legend of the creation 
of the bird we have a remote cognate of the Indian forms, which 
must have proceeded from the same neolithic stock; and that in 
both cases the symbol of the swastika represents a process of 
transformation: the conjuring up (in the case of the Hactcin), or 
conjuring away (in the case of the Buddha), of a universe that 
because of the fleeting nature of its forms may indeed be compared 
to the substance of a mirage, or of a dream. 

Well, the birds all presently came to their creator. Black Hactcin, 
and asked, "What shall we eat?" He lifted his hand to each of the 
four directions, and because he had so much power, all kinds of 
seeds fell into his hand, and he scattered them. The birds went to 
pick them up. but the seeds all turned to insects, worms, and grass- 
hoppers, and they moved and hopped around, so that the birds, at 



first, could not catch them. The Hacttin was trying to tease them. 
He said, "Oh yes! It's hard work to catch those flies and grass- 
hoppers, but you can do it." And so they all chased the grass- 
hoppers and other insects around; and that is why they are doing 
that to this day. 

Now presently all the birds and animals came to Black Hactcin 
and told him that they wanted a companion; they wanted man. 
"You are not going to be with us all the time," they said. And he 
said, "I guess that will be true. Some day, perhaps, I shall go to 
a place where no one will see me." And so he told them to 
gather objects from all directions. They brought pollen from all 
kinds of plants, and they added red ocher, white clay, white stone, 
jet, turguoise, red stone, opal, abalone, and assorted valuable 
stones. And when they had put these before Black Hactcin, he 
told them to withdraw to a distance. He stood to the east, then to 
the south, then to the west, then to the north. He took pollen and 
traced with it the outline of a figure on the ground, an outline just 
like that of his own body. Then he placed the precious stones and 
other objects inside this outline, and they became flesh and bones. 
The veins were of turquoise, the blood of red ocher, the skin of 
coral, the bones of white rock; the fingernails were of Mexican opal, 
the pupil of the eye of jet, the whites of the eyes of abalone, the 
marrow in the bones of white clay, and the teeth too were of opal. 
He took a dark doud and out of it fashioned the hair. It becomes 
a white doud when you are old. 

The Hactcin sent wind into the form that he had formed and 
made it animate. The whorls at the ends of our fingers indicate the 
path of the wind at that time of the creation. And at death the 
wind leaves the body from the soles of the feet, where the whorls 
at the bottom of the feet represent the path of the wind in its exit. 
The man was lying down, face downward, with his arms out- 
stretched; and the birds tried to look, but Black Hactdn forbade 
them to do so. For now the man was coming to life. The man 
braced himself, leaning on his arms. "Do not look," said Hactcin 
to the birds, who were now very much excited. And it is because 
the birds and animals were so eager to see that people are so 
curious today, just as you are eager to hear the rest of this story. 



"Sit up," Hactcin said to the man; and then he taught him to 
speak, to laugh, to shout, to walk, and to run. And when the birds 
saw what had been done they burst into song, as they do in the 
early morning. 

But the animals thought this man should have a companion, and 
so Black Hactcin put him to sleep; and when the man's eyes be- 
came heavy he began to dream. He was dreaming that someone, a 
girl, was sitting beside him. And when he woke up, there was a 
woman sitting there. He spoke to her, and she answered. He 
laughed, and she laughed. "Let us both get up," he said, and they 
rose. "Let us walk," he said, and he led her the first four steps: 
right, left, right, left. "Run," he said, and they both ran. And then 
once again the birds burst into song, so that the two should have 
pleasant music and not be lonesome. 

Now all of this took place not on the level of the earth on which 
we now are living, but below, in the womb of the earth; and it was 
dark; there was neither sun nor moon at that time. So White and 
Black Hactcin together took a little sun and a little moon out of 
their bags, caused them to grow, and then sent them up into the 
air, where they moved from north to south, shedding light all 
around. This caused a great deal of excitement among the people 
— the animals, the birds, and the people. But there were a lot of 
shamans among them at that time, all kinds of shamans among the 
people— men and women who claimed to have power from all 
sorts of things. These saw the sun going from north to south and 
began to talk. 

One said, "I made the sun"; another: "No, I did." They began 
guarreling, and the Hactcin ordered them not to talk like that. But 
they kept making claims and fighting. One said, "I think I'll make 
the sun stop overhead, so that there will be no night. But no, I 
guess I'll let it go. We need some time to rest and sleep." Another 
said, "Perhaps I'll get rid of the moon. We really don't reguire any 
light at night." But the sun rose the second day and the birds and 
animals were happy. The next day it was the same. When noon 
of the fourth day came, however, and the shamans, in spite of 
what the Hactcin had told them, continued to talk, there was an 


edipse. The sun went right up through a hole overhead and the 
moon followed, and that is why we have edipses today. 

One of the Hactdn said to the boastful shamans, "All right, 
you people say you have power. Now bring back the sun." 

So they all lined up. In one line were the shamans, and in an- 
other all the birds and animals. The shamans began to perform, 
singing songs and making ceremonies. They showed everything 
they knew. Some would sit singing and then disappear into the 
earth, leaving only their eyes sticking out, then return. But this 
did not bring back the sun. It was only to show that they had 
power. Some swallowed arrows, which would come out of their 
flesh at their stomachs. Some swallowed feathers; some swallowed 
whole spruce trees and spat than up again. But they were still 
without the sun and moon. 

Then White Hactdn said, "All you people are doing pretty 
well, but I don't think you are bringing the sun back. Your time 
is up." He turned to the birds and animals. "All right," he said, 
"now it is your turn." 

They all began to speak to one another politely, as though they 
were brothers-in-law; but the Hactdn said: "You must do some- 
thing more than speak to one another in that polite way. Get up 
and do something with your power and make the sun come back." 

The grasshopper was the first to try. He stretched forth his hand 
to the four directions, and when he brought it back he was holding 
bread. The deer stretched out his hand to the four directions, and 
when he brought it back he was holding yucca fruit. The bear pro- 
duced choke-cherries in the same way, and the groundhog, berries; 
the chipmunk strawberries; the turkey, maize; and so it went 
with all. But though the Hactdn were pleased with these gifts, the 
people were still without the sun and moon. 

Thereupon, the Haddn themsdves began to do something. 
They sent for thunder of four colors, from the four directions, and 
these thunders brought douds of the four colors, from which rain 
fell. Then, sending for Rainbow to mate it beautiful while the 
seeds that the people had produced were planted, the Haddn 
made a sand-painting with four little colored mounds in a row. 



into which they put the seeds. The birds and animals sang and 
presently the little mounds began to grow, the seeds began to 
sprout, and the four mounds of colored earth merged and became 
one mountain, which continued to rise. 

The Hactrin then selected twelve shamans who had been par- 
ticularly spectacular in their magical performances, and, painting 
six of them blue all over, to represent the summer season, and six 
white, to represent the winter, called them Tsanati; and that was 
the origin of the Tsanati dance society of the Jicarilla Apache. 
After that the Hactcin made six clowns, painting them white with 
four black horizontal bands, one across the face, one across the 
chest, one across the upper leg and one across the lower. The 
Tsanati and clowns then joined the people in their dance, to make 
the mountain grow . 7 

It would be difficult to find a clearer statement of the process 
by which the individualistic shamans, in their paleolithic style of 
magical practice, were discredited by the guardians of the group- 
oriented, comparatively complex organization of a seed-planting, 
food- growing community. Lined up, fitted into uniform, they were 
given a place in the liturgical structure of a larger whole. The epi- 
sode thus represents the victory of a socially armointed priesthood 
over the highly dangerous and unpredictable force of individual 
endowment. And the teller of the J icarilla Apache story himself 
explained the necessity for incorporating the shamans in the cere- 
monial system. "These people," he said, "had ceremonies of their 
own which they derived from various sources, from animals, from 
fire, from the turkey, from frogs, and from other things. They 
could not be left out. They had power, and they had to help too ." 8 

I do not know of any myth that represents more clearly than 
this the crisis that must have faced the societies of the Old World 
when the neolithic order of the earth-bound villages began to make 
its power felt in a gradual conquest of the most habitable portions 
of the earth. The situation in Arizona and New r Mexico at the 
period of the discovery of America was, culturally, much like that 
which must have prevailed in the Near and Middle East and in 
Europe from the fourth to second millenniums B.C., when the rigid 



patterns proper to an orderly settlement were being imposed on 
peoples used to the freedom and vicissitudes of the hunt. And if 
we turn our eyes to the mythologies of the Hindus, Persians, 
Greeks, Celts, and Germans, we immediately recognize, in the 
well-known, oft- recited tales of the conquest of the titans by the 
gods, analogies to this legend of the subjugation of the shamans 
by the Hactcin. The titans, dwarfs, and giants are represented as 
the powers of an earlier mythological age— crude and loutish, ego- 
istic and lawless, in contrast to the comely gods, whose reign of 
heavenly order harmoniously governs the worlds of nature and 
man. The giants were overthrown, pinned beneath mountains, 
exiled to the rugged regions at the bounds of the earth, and as 
long as the power of the gods can keep them there the people, the 
animals, the birds, and all living things will know the blessings of 
a world ruled by law. 

In the Hindu sacred books there is a myth that appears fre- 
quently, of the gods and titans cooperating under the supervision 
of the two supreme deities, Vishnu and Shiva, to chum the Milky 
Ocean for its butter. They took the World Mountain as a churn- 
ing stick and the World Serpent as a twirling rope, and wrapped 
the serpent around the mountain. Then, the gods taking hold of the 
head end of the snake and the demons of the tail, while Vishnu 
supported the World Mountain, they churned for a thousand 
years and produced in the end the Butter of Immortality . 9 

It is almost impossible not to think of this myth when reading 
of the efforts of the quarrelsome shamans and orderly people, un- 
der the supervision of the Apache Hactcin, to make the World 
Mountain grow and carry them to the world of light. The Tsanati 
and clowns, we are told, joined the people in their dance, and the 
mountain grew, until its top nearly reached the hole through which 
the sun and moon had disappeared; and it remained, then, only 
to construct four ladders of light of the four colors, up which the 
people could ascend to the surface of our present earth. The six 
clowns went ahead with magical whips to chase disease away and 
were followed by the Hactcin; and then the Tsanati came; after 
them, the people and animals. "And when they came up onto the 



earth," said the teller of the story, "it was just like a child being 
bom from its mother. The place of emergence is the womb of the 
earth." 10 

The highest concern of all the mythologies, ceremonials, ethical 
systems, and social organizations of the agriculturally based so- 
cieties has been that of suppressing the manifestations of indi- 
vidualism; and this has been generally achieved by compelling or 
persuading people to identify themselves not with their own in- 
terests, intuitions, or modes of experience, but with the archetypes 
of behavior and systems of sentiment developed and maintained in 
the public domain. A world vision derived from the lesson of the 
plants, representing the individual as a mere cell or moment in a 
larger process— that of the sib, the race, or, in larger terms, the 
species— so devaluates even the first signs of personal spontaneity 
that every impulse to self-discovery is purged away. "Truly, truly, 
I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, 
it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." 11 This noble 
maxim represents the binding sentiment of the holy society— that 
is to say, the church militant, suffering, and triumphant— of those 
who do not wish to remain alone. 

But, on the other hand, there have always been those who have 
very much wished to remain alone, and have done so, achieving 
sometimes, indeed, even that solitude in which the Great Spirit, the 
Power, the Great Mystery that is hidden from the group in its 
concerns is intuited with the inner impact of an immediate force. 
And the endless round of the serpent's way, biting its tail, slough- 
ing its old skin, to come forth renewed and slough again, is then 
itself cast away— often with scorn— for the supernormal experience 
of an eternity beyond the beat of time. Like an eagle the spirit 
then soars on its own wings. The dragon "Thou Shalt, " as Nietzsche 
terms the social fiction of the moral law, has been slain by the 
lion of self-discovery; and the master roars— as the Buddhists 
phrase it— the lion roar: the roar of the great Shaman of the moun- 
tain peaks, of the void beyond all horizons, and of the bottomless 

In the paleolithic hunter's world, where the groups were com- 



paratively small— hardly more than forty or fifty individuals— the 
social pressures were far less severe than in the later, larger, dif- 
ferentiated and systematically coordinated long- established villages 
and cities. And the advantages to the group lay rather in the foster- 
ing than in the crushing out of impulse. We have already seen the 
Ojibway father introduce his son to the solitude of the initiatory 
fast— the shrine, so to say, of self-discovery, sheer emptiness, with 
no socially guaranteed image or concept of what the god to 
be found should be, and with the perfect understanding that 
whatever the boy should find there would be honored and ac- 
cepted as the boy's own divinely given way. And we have seen 
also the manner of the masked gods of the planters, binding every- 
thing into the compass of their own hieratically organized world- 
society; offering the power of the group as a principle finally and 
absolutely superior to any of those "ceremonies of their own" 
which the shamans had derived from the various sources of their 
own experience. 

This, then, is to be our first distinction between the mythologies 
of the hunters and those of the planters. The accent of the planting 
rites is on the group; that of the hunters, rather, on the individual— 
though even here, of course, the group does not disappear. Even 
among the hunters we have the people— the dear people— who 
bow to one another politely, like brothers- in- law, but have com- 
paratively little personal power. And these constitute, even on that 
level, a group from which the far more potent shamans stand apart. 
We have read of the Eskimo shaman Najagneg, who carried on a 
war against his whole village and then faced them out of coun- 
tenance when they came to accuse him in a court of law. And we 
have read also of the more primitive Caribou Eskimo shaman 
Igjugaquk, who, when he knew the girl he wished to marry, sim- 
ply took his gun, shot her family from around her, and brought 
her home. In the villages and towns of the planters, however, it 
is the group and the archetypal philosophy of the group— the 
philosophy of the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies 
but therein lives, the philosophy imaged in the rites of the monster 
serpent and the maiden sacrifice— that preponderate and repre- 
sent perfectly the system of sentiments most conducive to group 



survival; in the hunter's world, where the group was never large 
or strong enough to face down a man who had achieved in his 
own way his own full stature, it was the philosophy, rather, of the 
"lion roar" that prevailed. 

As we have seen, in some areas (e.g.. North America) this 
shamanistic, individualistic principle prevailed to such an extent 
that even the puberty rites had as their chief theme the personal 
quest for a vision. In others (e.g.. Central Australia, where a 
powerful influence from the planting world of Melanesia had been 
assimilated),* a greater emphasis on the age of the ancestors and 
disciplines of the men's dancing ground left to the individual very 
little of his own. Nevertheless, in the main it can be said that in 
the world of the hunt the shamanistic principle preponderates and 
that consequently the mythological and ritual life is far less richly 
developed than among the planters. It has a lighter, more whimsical 
character, and most of its functioning deities are rather in the 
nature of personal familiars than of profoundly developed gods. 
And yet, as we have also seen, there have been depths of insight 
reached by the mind in the solitude of the tundras that are hardly 
to be matched in the great group ecstasies of the bull-roarers, borne 
on the air, heavy with dread. 

II. Shamanistic Magic 

"From Wakan-Tanka, the Great Mystery, comes all power," 
said an old chieftain of the Oglalla Sioux, Chief Piece of Flat Iron, 
to Natalie Curtis when she was collecting material for The Indians' 
Book in the first decade of the present century. 

It is all from Wakan-Tanka that the Holy Man has wisdom 
and the power to heal and to make holy charms. Man knows 
that all healing plants are given by Wakan-Tanka; therefore 
they are holy. So too is the buffalo holy, because it is the gift 
of Wakan-Tanka. The Great Mystery gave to men all things 
for their food, their clothing, and their welfare. And to man 
he gave also the knowledge how to use these gifts— how to 
find the holy healing plants, how to hunt and surround the 
buffalo, how to know wisdom. For all comes from Wakan- 
Tanka— all. 

*Cf. supra, pp. 88- 115. 



To the Holy Man comes in youth the knowledge that he will 
be holy. The Great Mystery makes him know this. Sometimes 
it is the Spirits who tell him. The Spirits came not in sleep 
always, but also when man is awake. When a Spirit comes 
it would seem as though a man stood there, but when this 
man has spoken and goes forth again, none may see whither 
he goes. Thus the Spirits. With the Spirits the Holy Man may 
commune always, and they teach him holy things. 

The Holy Man goes apart to a lone tipi and fasts and prays. 

Or he goes into the hills in solitude. When he returns to men, 
he teaches them and tells them what the Great Mystery has 
bidden him to tell. He counsels, he heals, and he makes holy 
charms to protect the people from all evil. Great is his power 
and greatly is he revered; his place in the tipi is an honored 
one . 12 

Knud Rasmussen received from the Caribou Eskimo shaman 
Igjugarjuk a full account of the ordeal through which he had ac- 
quired his shamanistic power. When young, he had been visited 
constantly by dreams that he could not understand. 

Strange unknown beings came and spoke to him, and when he 
awoke, he saw all the visions of his dream so distinctly that 
he could tell his fellows all about them. Soon it became 
evident to all that he was destined to become an angakoq 
[a shaman] and an old man named Perqanaoq was appointed 
his instructor. In the depth of winter, when the cold was most 
severe, Igjugarjuk was placed on a small sledge just large 
enough for him to sit on, and carried far away from his home 
to the other side of Hikoligjuag. On reaching the appointed 
spot, he remained seated on the sledge while his instructor 
built a tiny snow hut, with barely room for him to sit cross- 
legged. He was not allowed to set foot on the snow, but was 
lifted from the sledge and carried into the hut, where a piece 
of skin just large enough for him to sit on served as a carpet. 

No food or drink was given him; he was exhorted to think 
only of the Great Spirit and of the helping spirit that should 
presently appear— and so he was left to himself and his 

After five days had elapsed, the instructor brought him a 
drink of lukewarm water, and with similar exhortations, left 
him as before. He fasted now for fifteen days, when he was 
given another drink of water and a very small piece of meat, 
which had to last him a further ten days. At the end of this 



period, his instructor came for him and fetched him home. 
Igjugaijuk declared that the strain of those thirty days of cold 
and fasting was so severe that he "sometimes died a little." 
During all that time he thought only of the Great Spirit, and 
endeavored to keep his mind free from all memory of human 
beings and everyday things. Toward the end of the thirty days 
there came to him a helping spirit in the shape of a woman. 
She came while he was asleep and seemed to hover in the 
air above him. After that he dreamed no more of her, but she 
became his helping spirit. For five months following this 
period of trial, he was kept on the strictest diet, and required 
to abstain from ail intercourse with women. The fasting was 
then repeated; for such fasts at frequent intervals are the best 
means of attaining to knowledge of hidden things. As a mat- 
ter of fact, there is no limit to the period of study; it depends 
on how much one is willing to suffer and anxious to learn . 13 

Women too became shamans. In the same Eskimo community 
was Kinalik: "still a young woman," as Dr. Rasmussen describes 
her, "very intelligent, kind hearted, dean and good looking, who 
spoke frankly and without reserve." 

Igjugaijuk was her brother-in-law and had himself been her 
instructor in magic. Her initiation had been severe. She was 
hung up to some tent poles planted in the snow and left there 
for five days. It was midwinter, with intense cold and frequent 
blizzards, but she did not feel the cold, for the spirit protected 
her. When the five days were at an end, she was taken down 
and carried into the house, and Igjugarjuk was invited to 
shoot her, in order that she might attain to intimacy with the 
supernatural by visions of death. The gun was to be loaded 
with real powder, but a stone was to be used instead of the 
leaden bullet, in order that she might still retain connection 
with earth. Igjugaijuk, in the presence of the assembled vil- 
lagers, fired the shot, and Kinalik fell to the ground un- 
conscious. On the following morning, just as Igjugaijuk was 
about to bring her to life again, she awakened from the swoon 
unaided. Igjugaijuk asserted that he had shot her through the 
heart, and that the stone had afterward been removed and 
was in the possession of her old mother. 1 * 

One gets the impression, however, that, although these Saint 
Anthonys of the wilderness must truly have suffered in their youth- 
ful years of austerity, they have had a tendency to pull the long 



bow when telling of their trials, or perhaps, rather, to confuse 
dream reality with daytime events. We have already heard of the 
ten deaths and resurrections of Rasmussen's other Eskimo shaman, 
Najagneq* In the same community with Igjugaijuk there was still 
another practicing shaman, a young man whose name was Aggjar- 
toq, "who," as Dr. Rasmussen declares, without the hint of a 
smile, "had also been initiated into the mysteries of the occult 
with Igjugarjuk as his teacher; and in his case a third form of or- 
deal had been employed; to wit, that of drowning. He was lashed 
to a long pole and carried out onto a lake, a hole was cut in the 
ice, and the pole with its living burden thrust down through the 
hole, in such a fashion that Aggjartoq actually stood on the bottom 
of the lake with his head under water. He was left in this position 
for five days and when at last they hauled him up again, his clothes 
showed no sign of having been in the water at all and he himself 
had become a great wizard, having overcome death." 15 

The Caribou Eskimos, dwelling in the cruel arctic wastes west 
of the northern reaches of Hudson Bay, are among the most primi- 
tive people on earth; and their counterparts at the other extreme 
of the New World, on the no less bleak and difficult rocky tip of 
the southern continent, Tierra del Fuego, are likewise specimens 
of a type of life that was already out of fashion in the later mil- 
lenniums of the paleolithic, 30,000-10,000 B.C. It is not known 
when the people now inhabiting the southern tip of South America 
—that "uttermost part of the earth"— first arrived in their rocky 
refuge, pressed down by the later, more highly developed societies 
of the north; but their ancestors must have crossed to the New 
World from Siberia many millenniums ago. When first explored by 
Europeans, the area was found divided among four tribes: the 
Yahgans (or Yamanas) of the southern coasts, a short and sturdy 
people who lived largely on fish and limpets, handled canoes with 
skill, and could occasionally manage to harpoon a seal, porpoise, 
or even diminutive whale; a considerably taller and comparatively 
handsome mountain- dwelling people, known as the Ona, in the 
inland area north of the Yahgans, who lived by the hunt; and 
to the west and east of these, respectively, the Alacaloof and the 

* Supra, p. 53. 



Aush, the former, like the Yahgans, a canoe people, and the latter, 
like the Ona (to whom they were related), a race of hunters. In 
the year 1870 a mission was established at the site since known 
as Ushuaia by a courageous young clergyman, Thomas Bridges, 
whose son Lucas, bom at Ushuaia in 1874, has given an account 
of his long life among his friends the Yahgans and the Ona. 

"Some of these humbugs," he says, describing the medicine men, 
or joon, of the Ona, 

were excellent actors. Standing or kneeling beside the patient, 
gazing intently at the spot where the pain was situated, the 
doctor would allow a look of horror to come over his face. 
Evidently he could see something invisible to the rest of us. 
His approach might be slow or he might pounce, as though 
afraid that the evil thing that had caused the trouble would 
escape. With his hands he would try to gather the malign 
presence into one part of the patient's body— generally the 
chest— where he would then apply his mouth and suck 
violently. Sometimes this struggle went on for an hour, to be 
repeated later. At other times the joon would draw away from 
his patient with the pretense of holding something in his mouth 
with his hands. Then, always facing away from the encamp- 
ment, he would take his hands from his mouth, gripping them 
tightly together, and, with a guttural shout difficult to describe 
and impossible to spell, fling this invisible object to the ground 
and stamp fiercely upon it. Occasionally a little mud, some 
flint or even a tiny, very young mouse might be produced as 
the cause of the patient's indisposition. I myself have never 
seen a mouse figure in one of these performances, but they 
were quite common. Perhaps when I was there the doctor had 
failed to find a mouse's nest. 16 

An occasion to observe a considerably more puzzling manifesta- 
tion of power occurred when a highly celebrated joon named 
Houshken, who had never seen a white man before, was induced 
to put on a brief performance for Mr. Bridges, who writes: 

Our conversation— as was always the case at such meetings 
—was slow, with long pauses between sentences, as though for 
deep thought. I told Houshken that I had heard of his great 
powers and would like to see some of his magic. He did not 
refuse my request, but answered modestly that he was dis- 
inclined, the Ona way of saying that he might do it by and by. 



After allowing a quarter of an hour to elapse, Houshken 
said he was thirsty and went down to the nearby stream for a 
drink. It was a bright moonlight night and the snow on the 
ground helped to make the scene of the exhibition we were 
about to witness as light as day. On his return, Houshken sat 
down and broke into a monotonous chant, which went on 
until suddenly he put his hands to his mouth. When he 
brought them away, they were palms downward and some 
inches apart. We saw that a strip of guanaco hide, about the 
thickness of a leather bootlace, was now held loosely in his 
hands. It passed over his thumbs, under the palms of his 
half- closed hands, and was looped over his little fingers so 
that about three inches of end hung down from each hand. 
The strip appeared to be not more than eighteen inches long. 

Without pulling the strip tight, Houshken now began to 
shake his hands violently, gradually bringing them farther 
apart, until the strip, with the two ends still showing, was 
about four feet long. He then called his brother, Chashkil, 
who took the end from his right hand and stepped back with 
it. From four feet, the strip now grew out of Houshken's left 
hand to double that length. Then, as Chashkil stepped forward, 
it disappeared back into Houshken's hand, until he was able 
to take the other end from his brother. With the continued 
agitation of his hands, the strip got shorter and shorter. Sud- 
denly, when his hands were almost together, he clapped them 
to his mouth, uttered a prolonged shriek, then held out his 
hands to us, palms upward and empty. 

Even an ostrich could not have swallowed those eight feet 
of hide at one gulp without visible effort. Where; else the coil 
could have gone to I do not profess to know. It could not 
have gone up Houshken's sleeve, for he had dropped his 
robe when the performance began [and, like all male Onas 
without their robes, was naked]. There were between twenty 
and thirty men present, but only eight or nine were Houshken's 
people. The rest were far from being friends of the performer 
and all had been watching intently. Had they detected some 
simple trick, the great medidne-man would have lost his 
influence; they would no longer have believed in any of his 

The demonstration was not yet over. Houshken stood up 
and resumed his robe. Once again he broke into a chant and 
seemed to go into a trance, possessed by some spirit not his 
own. Drawing himself up to his full height, he took a step 
towards me and let his robe, his only garment, fall to the 



ground. He put his hands to his mouth with a most impressive 
gesture and brought them away again with lists clenched and 
thumbs dose together. He held them up to the height, of my 
eyes, and when they were less than two feet from my face 
slowly drew them apart. I saw that there was now a small, 
almost opaque object between them. It was about an inch in 
diameter in the middle and tapered away into his hands. It 
might have been a piece of semi-transparent dough or elastic, 
but whatever it was it seemed to be alive, revolving at great 
speed, while Houshken, apparently from muscular tension, 
was trembling violently. 

The moonlight was bright enough to read by as I gazed at 
this strange object. Houshken brought his hands further apart 
and the object grew more and more transparent, until, when 
some three inches separated his hands, I realized that it was 
not there any more. It did not break or burst like a bubble; 
it simply disappeared, having been visible to me for less than 
five seconds. Houshken made no sudden movement, but 
slowly opened his hands and turned them over for my inspec- 
tion. They looked dean and dry. He was stark naked and 
there was no confederate beside him. I glanced down at the 
snow, and, in spite of his stoicism, Houshken could not resist 
a chuckle, for nothing was to be seen there. 

The others had crowded round us and, as the object dis- 
appeared, there was a frightened gasp from among them. 
Houshken reassured them with the remark 

"Do not let it trouble you. I shall call it back to mysdf 

The natives believed this to be an incredibly malignant spirit 
belonging to, or possibly part of the joon from whom it 
emanated. It might take physical form, as we had just wit- 
nessed, or be totally invisible. It had the power to introduce 
insects, tiny mice, mud, sharp flints or even a jelly-fish or 
baby octopus, into the anatomy of those who had incurred 
its master's displeasure. I have seen a strong man shudder 
involuntarily at the thought of this horror and its evil poten- 
tialities. It was a curious fact that, although every magician 
must have known himself to be a fraud and a trickster, he 
always believed in and greatly feared the supernatural abili- 
ties of other medicine- men. 17 

When this account of the functioning of a joon of the Ona is 
compared with what we have learned of his counterparts in the 
north, a number of interesting points emerge. Drawn, it will be 



recalled, from two of the most primitive hunting communities on 
earth, at opposite poles of the world, and out of touch, certainly 
for millenniums, with any common point of traditional origin— 
if such there ever was— the two groups have nevertheless the same 
notion of the role and character of the shaman, while the shamans 
themselves have had the same types of experience and face prac- 
tically the same orders of problem in relation to their practice 
among their simpler fellows. "He was no humbug," said Dr. 
Ostermann in the judgment quoted earlier of the Alaskan ten- 
horse-power Najagneg, "but a solitary man accustomed to hold 
his own against many and therefore had to have his little tricks." 
And Mr. Bridges, while retaining the view, suitable to the son of a 
clergyman, that shamans were indeed humbugs, nevertheless recog- 
nized that they feared one another's power. And this element 
of fear, real fear, is a characteristic reaction wherever men and 
women of shamanistic power and skill have appeared. 

But, reciprocally, the shamans themselves have always lived in 
fear of their communities. "Medicine men," wrote Mr. Bridges, 
"ran great dangers. When persons in their prime died from no 
visible cause, the 'family doctor' would often cast suspicion, in an 
ambiguous way, on some rival necromancer. Frequently the chief 
object of a raiding party, in the perpetual clan warfare of the Ona, 
was to kill the medicine man of an opposing group." 18 The shaman, 
as he puts it, "was a creature apart from the honest hunters." And 
we have already seen the signs of this separation, not only in the 
war of the Eskimo Najagneq with the rest of his community, but 
also in the way of lining the people and the shamans in two rows in 
the J icarilla Apache myth. 

The shaman has an occult power over nature, which he can use 
either to harm or to benefit his fellows. Moreover, the shaman 
need not appear as a human being. Mr. Bridges tells of a mountain 
near Ushuaia that was thought to be a witch: to show her ill will, 
she could conjure up a storm . 19 And he tells also of a solitary 
guanaco (a kind of wild llama) that he shot high in the moun- 
tains, which he and his Indian companions then discovered to 
have been dwelling, solitary, in a small cave. "These guanaco 
reduses, braving the long winter in the mountains alone," writes 



Mr. Bridges, "were very rare. . . . That night, discussing the 
matter round our camp-fire, I suggested that the hermit might 
have remained there alone in the cave to study guanaco magic. 
Instead of laughing, my companions agreed, with serious expres- 
sions on their faces, that this was quite likely . " 20 

The shamanistic affinity with nature, which these two anecdotes 
of the witch- mountain and the shaman- guanaco suggest, is of a 
deeper, more occult kind than that of the "honest hunters" of the 
tribe, no matter how skillful and amazing to the white man the 
woodcraft of the latter may seem to be. Mr. Bridges— himself no 
mean woodsman— describes with wonder the almost incredible 
sensitivity of the Ona to the presences around them in the deep 
forest; but these same Ona hunters observed with wonder the 
power over nature of their shaman. For, whereas they could 
function expertly in relation to its outer aspect, he could work in 
the manner of a cause, reaching behind the veil and touching those 
hidden centers that break the normal, natural circuits of energy 
and create transformations. He could cause ectoplasmic emana- 
tions to appear between his violently trembling palms; take the 
form of a mountain; appear as a beast; conjure up or dispel a 
storm, and tell, as though reciting tales of his own intimate knowl- 
edge and experience, the mythological lore and legends of the 

For in every society in which they have been known, the shamans 
have been the particular guardians and reciters of the chants and 
traditions of their people. "Being a joon of repute," wrote Mr. 
Bridges of his shaman friend, "Tininisk preferred chanting or in- 
structing us in ancient lore to work and drudgery ." 21 

And why not? 

The realm of myth, from which, according to primitive be- 
lief, the whole spectacle of the world proceeds, and the realm of 
shamanistic trance are one and the same. Indeed, it is because of 
the reality of the trance and the profound impression left on the 
mind of the shaman himself by his experiences that he believes in 
his craft and its power— even though, for a popular show, he may 
have to put on a deceptive external performance, imitating for the 


honest hunters some of the wonders that his spirits have shown 
him in the magical realm beyond the veil. 

This relationship of the shaman's inner experiences to myth is 
a supremely important theme and problem of our subject. For 
if the shaman was the guardian of the mythological lore of man- 
kind during the period of some five or six hundred thousand years 
when the chief source of sustenance was the hunt then the inner 
world of the shaman must be assumed to have played a consider- 
able role in the formation of whatever portion of our spiritual in- 
heritance may have descended from the period of the paleolithic 
hunt. We must consider, therefore, what the visions within, and 
springing from, the shamanistic world of experience may have 

III. The Shamanistic Vision 

The inward experiences through which the power of the 
shaman is attained and from which the motifs of his shamanistic 
rites derive may be surmised from a survey of autobiographies 
gathered in recent years from the Buriat, Yakut, Ostyak, Vogul, 
and Tungus shamans of that vast quadrangle of Siberia— bounded 
on the west by the Yenisei River, east by the Lena River, south 
by Lake Baikal, and north by the Taimyr Peninsula— which has 
been from paleolithic times a classical academy of shamanism and 
is today its strongest surviving center. 

"A person cannot become a shaman if there have been no 
shamans in his sib," the Tungus shaman Semyonov Semyon de- 
clared, when questioned at his home on the Lower Tunguska River, 
in the spring of 1925, by the Russian folklorist G. V. Ksenofontov, 
who was himself a full-blooded Yakut. "Only those who have 
shaman ancestors in their past receive the shamanistic gift," said 
the shaman; "whence the gift descends from generation to genera- 
tion. My oldest brother, Ilya Semyonov, was a shaman. He died 
three years ago. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a 
shaman too. My grandmother on the mother's side was a Yakut 
from Chirindi, of the Yessei Yakut sib, Jakdakar." 

"It is to be understood," Ksenofontov comments, "that these 



shamans, in their turn, received their shamanistic gift from further 
representatives of the family line, whose names they knew; so that 
an unbroken chain of shamanistic tradition has come down from 
the depth of the centuries. The Yessei Yakut," he adds, "are most 
probably Yakutized Tungus." 

'When 1 shamanize," the shaman continued, 

the spirit of my deceased brother Ilya comes and speaks 
through my mouth. My shaman forefathers, too, have forced 
me to walk the path of shamanism. Before I commenced to 
shamanize, I lay sick for a whole year: I became a shaman 
at the age of fifteen. The sickness that forced me to this 
path showed itself in a swelling of my body and frequent 
spells of fainting. When I began to sing, however, the sick- 
ness usually disappeared. 

After that, my ancestors began to shamanize with me. 
They stood me up like a block of wood and shot at me with 
their bows until I lost consciousness. They cut up my flesh, 
separated my bones, counted them, and ate my flesh raw. 
When they counted the bones they found one too many; had 
there been too few, I could not have become a shaman. And 
while they vrore performing this rite, I ate and drank nothing 
for the whole summer. But at the end the shaman spirits drank 
the blood of a reindeer and gave me some to drink, too. 
After these events, the shaman has less blood and looks pale. 

The same thing happens to every Tungus shaman. Only 
after his shaman ancestors have cut up his body in this way 
and separated his bones can he begin to practice. 22 

As Professor Mircea Eliade has shown in his cross-cultural study 
of shamanism, 23 the overpowering mental crisis here described is 
a generally recognized feature of the vocational summons. Its 
counterparts have been registered wherever shamans have ap- 
peared and practiced; which is to say, in every primitive society 
of the world. And though the temporary unbalance precipitated 
by such a crisis may resemble a nervous breakdown, it cannot be 
dismissed as such. For it is a phenomenon sui generis; not a patho- 
logical but a normal event for the gifted mind in these societies, 
when struck; by and absorbing the force of what for lack of a 
better term we may call a hierophantic re aliza tion: the realization 
of "something far more deeply interfused," inhabiting both the 



round earth and one's own interior, which gives to the world a 
sacred character; an intuition of depth, absolutely inaccessible 
to the "tough minded" honest hunters (whether it be dollars, 
guanaco pelts, or working hypotheses they are after), but which 
may present itself spontaneously to such as William James has 
termed the "tender minded" of our species , 24 and who, as Paul 
Radin shows in his work on Primitive Man as Philosopher, exist no 
less in primitive than in higher societies . 25 

The force of such a hierophantic realization is the more com- 
pelling for the mind dwelling in a primitive society, inasmuch as 
the whole social structure, as well as the rationalization of its re- 
lationship to the surrounding world of nature, is there mytho- 
logical !) 1 based. The crisis, consequently, cannot be analyzed as a 
rupture with society and the world. It is, on the contrary, an 
overpowering realization of their depth, and the rupture is rather 
with the comparatively trivial attitude toward both the human 
spirit and the world that appears to satisfy the great majority. 

It has been remarked by sensitive observers that, in contrast to 
the life-maiming psychology of a neurosis (which is recognized in 
primitive societies as well as in our own, but not confused there 
with shamanism), the shamanistic crisis, when properly fostered, 
yields an adult not only of superior intelligence and refinement, but 
also of greater physical stamina and vitality of spirit than is normal 
to the members of his group . 26 The crisis, consequently, has the 
value of a superior threshold initiation: superior, in the first place, 
because spontaneous, not tribally enforced, and in the second 
place, because the shift of reference of the psychologically potent 
symbols has been not from the family to the tribe * but from the 
family to the universe. The energies of the psyche summoned into 
play by such an immediately recognized magnification of the 
field of life are of greater force than those released and directed 
by the group- oriented, group- contrived, visionary masquerades of 
the puberty rites and men's dancing ground. They give a steadier 
base and larger format to the character of the individual con- 
cerned, and have tended, also, to endow the phenomenology of 
shamanism itself with a quality of general human validity, which 

* Cf. supra, pp. 90-92. 



the local rites— of whatever community— simply do not share. 
And finally, since the group rites of the hunting societies are, au 
fond, precipitations into the public field of images first experienced 
in shamanistic vision, rendering myths best known to shamans 
and best interpreted by shamans, the painful crisis of the deeply 
forced vocational call carries the young adept to the root not only 
of his cultural structure, but also of the psychological structures of 
every member of his tribe. 

In a profound sense, then, the shaman stands against the group 
and necessarily so, since the whole realm of interests and anxieties 
of the group is for him secondary. And yet, because he has gone 
through— in some way, in some sense— to the heart of the world 
of which the group and its ranges of concern are but manifesta- 
tions, he can help and harm his fellows in ways that amaze them. 

But how, then, does he come to such power? 

We note first that, just as in the puberty rites, so also in 
Semyonov's vision, the structuring theme was an adventure of 
death and resurrection. We have already mentioned the infantile 
image of the parent as a cannibal ogre. The point of the shamanis- 
tic vision is that, though the victim indeed was eaten, there was a 
power of restitution inherent in his bones that brought him back 
to life. He is stronger than death. 

Spencer and Gillen have described the corresponding event in 
the lives of the medicine men of the Aranda. When a man of this 
Australian tribe feels that he has the power to become a shaman, 
he leaves the camp alone and proceeds to the mouth of a certain 
cave, where, with considerable trepidation, not venturing to go in- 
side, he lies down to sleep. At the break of day a spirit comes to 
the mouth of the cave and, finding the man asleep, throws at him 
an invisible lance, which pierces his neck from behind, passes 
through his tongue, and emerges from his mouth. The tongue re- 
mains throughout life perforated in the center with a hole large 
enough to admit the little finger; and, when all is over, this hole 
is the only visible and outward sign remaining of the treatment. A 
second lance then thrown by the spirit pierces his head from ear 
to ear, and the victim, falling dead, is immediately carried into 



the depths of the cave, within which the spirits live in perpetual 
sunshine, among streams of running water. The cave in guestion 
is supposed to extend far under the plain, terminating at a spot be- 
neath what is called the Edith Range, ten miles away. The spirits 
there remove all of the man's internal organs and provide him 
with a completely new set, after which he presently returns to life, 
but in a condition of insanity. This does not last very long, how- 
ever. When he has become sufficiently rational, the spirits of the 
cave— who are invisible to all except a few highly gifted medicine 
men and to dogs— conduct him back to his own people. He con- 
tinues to look and behave gueerly until, one morning, it is noticed 
that he has painted with powdered charcoal and fat a broad band 
across the bridge of his nose. Every sign of insanity has now dis- 
appeared, and the new medicine man has graduated. But he must 
not practice for another year, and if, during this period of proba- 
tion, the hole in his tongue closes, he will know that his power has 
departed and will not practice at all. Meanwhile, consorting with 
the local masters of his profession, he learns the secrets of his 
craft, "which consist," as Spencer and Gillen declare, "principally 
in the ability to hide about his person and to produce at will small 
quartz pebbles and bits of stick; and, of hardly less importance 
than this sleight of hand, the power of looking pretematurally 
solemn, as if he were the possessor of knowledge quite hidden 
from ordinary men ." 27 

The new intestines of the shaman are composed of quartz crys- 
tals, which he is now able to project into people, either for good 
or for ill . 28 And so here again we see a theme of death and restitu- 
tion, but with a new body that is adamantine. The Oriental counter- 
part, which plays a considerable role in both Hindu and Buddhist 
mystical literature, is the "diamond" or "thunderbolt" body 
(vajra), which the yogi achieves. On the primitive level it may be 
proper to read such an idea psychoanalytically, as a reparation 
fantasy defending the infantile psyche against its own body- 
destruction anxieties . 29 I do not think, however, that such a read- 
ing quite does justice to the reach of Hindu and Buddhist thought, 
or, indeed, to the generally known metaphysical concept of a 
principle of permanence underlying the phenomenology of temporal 



change. It is not easy to know how far bade into the primitive 
situation one can press the idea, universal to all the higher tradi- 
tions of mysticism, of the changing of "our lowly bodies to be like 
His glorious body" (Philippians 3:21); but I should say, judging 
from what we have already bear told by our Eskimo shamans, that 
it should be possible to run it back all the way. Nor do I know 
how tenaciously the reader is going to ding to the idea, advertised 
by Dr. Freud, that all higher thought, except psychoanalysis, is a 
function of infantile anxiety. But either way, we have certainly 
struck here a level or point of experience that would sean to repre- 
sent predsely vshat Bastian was referring to when he wrote of 
elementary ideas. The introversion of the shamanistic crisis and 
the break temporarily, from the local system of practical life lead 
to a fidd of experience that in the deepest sense transcends pro- 
vindalism and opens the way at least to a premonition of some- 
thing else. Indeed, I suspect that we are approaching here the 
ultimate sanctuary and wellspring of the whole world and wonder 
—all the magic— of the gods. 

Said the Tungus shaman, Semyonov Semyon: 

Up above there is a certain tree where the souls of the 
shamans are reared, before they attain their powers. And on 
the boughs of this tree are nests in which the souls lie and 
are attended. The name of the tree is "Tuuru." The higher 
the nest in this tree, the stronger will the shaman be who is 
raised in it, the more will he know, and the farther will he see. 

The rim of a shaman's drum is cut from a living larch. 
The larch is left alive and standing in recollection and honor 
of the tree Tuuru, where the soul of the shaman was raised. 
Furthermore, in memory of the great tree Tuuru, at each 
seance the shaman plants a tree with one or more cross- 
sticks in the tmt where the ceremony takes place, and this 
tree too is called Tuuru. This is done both among us here 
on the Lower Tunguska and among the Angara Tungus. The 
Tungus who are connected with the Yakuts call this planted 
tree "Sarga." It is made of a long pole of larch. White cloths 
are hung on the cross-sticks. Among the Angara Tungus they 
hang the pelt of a sacrificed animal on the tree. The Tungus 
of the Middle Tunguska make a Tuuru that is just like ours. 

According to our belief, the soul of the shaman climbs up 
this tree to God when he shamanizes. For the tree grows 



during the rite and invisibly reaches the summit of heaven. 

God created two trees when he created the earth and man: 

a male, the larch; and a female, the fir. 30 

The vision of the tree is a characteristic feature of the shamanism 
of Siberia. The image can have been derived from the great tradi- 
tions of the south; it is applied, however, to a distincdy shamanistic 
system of experience. Like the tree of Wotan, Yggdrasil, it is the 
world axis, reaching to the zenith. The shaman has been nurtured 
in this tree, and his drum, fashioned of its wood, bears him back 
to it in his trance of ecstasy. As Eliade has pointed out, the 
shaman's power rests in his ability to throw himself into a trance 
at will. Nor is he the victim of his trance: he commands it, as a 
bird the air in its flight. The magic of his drum carries him away 
on the wings of its rhythm, the wings of spiritual transport. The 
drum and dance simultaneously elevate his spirit and conjure to 
him his familiars— the beasts and birds, invisible to others, that 
have supplied him with his power and assist him in his flight. And 
it is while in his trance of rapture that he performs his miraculous 
deeds. While in this trance he is flying as a bird to the upper world, 
or descending as a reindeer, bull, or bear to the world beneath. 

Among the Buriat, the animal or bird that protects the shaman 
is called khubilgan, meaning "metamorphosis," from the verb 
khubilku, "to change oneself, to take another form." 31 The early 
Russian missionaries and voyagers in Siberia in the first part of 
the eighteenth century noted that the shamans spoke to their spirits 
in a strange, squeaky voice. 32 They also found among the tribes 
numerous images of geese with extended wings, sometimes of 
brass. 33 And as we shall soon see,* in a highly interesting paleolithic 
hunting station known as Mal'ta, in the Lake Baikal area, a number 
of flying geese or ducks were found, carved in mammoth ivory. 
Such flying birds, in fact, have been found in many paleolithic 
stations; and on the under-wings of an important example found 
near Kiev, in the Ukraine, in a site called Mezin, there appears 
the earliest swastika of which we have record— a symbol associated 
(as we have already remarked) in the later Buddhist art of nearby 
China and Tibet with the spiritual flight of the Buddha. Further- 

* Infra, p. 330. 



more, in the great paleolithic cavern of Lascaux, in southern 
France, there is the picture of a shaman dressed in bird costume, 
lying prostrate in a trance and with the figure of a bird perched 
on his shaman staff beside him. The shamans of Siberia wear bird 
costumes to this day, and many are believed to have been conceived 
by their mothers from the descent of a bird. In India, a term of 
honor addressed to the master yogi is Paramahamsa: paramount 
or supreme {paramo) wild gander (hamsa). In China the so-called 
"mountain men" or "immortals" (hsien) are pictured as feathered, 
like birds, or as floating through the air on soaring beasts. The 
German legend of Lohengrin, the swan knight, and the tales, told 
wherever shamanism has flourished, of the swan maiden, are like- 
wise evidence of the force of the image of the bird as an adeguate 
sign of spiritual power. And shall we not think, also, of the dove 
that descended upon Mary, and the swan that begot Helen of Troy? 
In many lands the soul has been pictured as a bird, and birds 
commonly are spiritual messengers. Angels are but modified birds. 
But the bird of the shaman is one of particular character and 
power, endowing him with an ability to fly in trance beyond the 
bounds of life, and yet return. 

Something of the world in which these wonder-workers move and 
dwell may be gathered from the legend of the Yakut shaman 
Aadja. His fabulous triple- phased biography commences with a 
tale of two brothers, whose parents had died when they were very 
young; and when the elder was thirty and the younger twenty, the 
latter married. "In the same year, " we then are told, 

a red piebald stallion foal was bom, and the signs all pointed 
to this foal's becoming a beautiful steed. But that same fall 
the younger of the two brothers— the one who had married- 
fell sick and died. And although he lay there dead, he could 
hear everything that was said around him. He felt as though 
he had fallen asleep. He could neither move a limb nor 
speak, yet could distinctly hear them making his coffin and 
digging his grave. And so there he lay, as though alive, and 
he was unhappy that they should be getting together to bury 
him when he might very well have come back to life. They 
placed him in the coffin, put the coffin in the grave, and 
shoveled in the dirt. 



He lay in the grave, and his soul, his heart, cried and 
sobbed. But suddenly, then, he heard that someone up there 
had begun to dig. He was glad to think that his elder brother, 
believing that he might still be alive, wished to disinter him. 
However, when at last the cover of his coffin was removed, he 
saw four black people whom he did not know. They took 
up his body and stood him upright on his coffin with his face 
turned toward his house. Through the window he could see 
a fire burning and smoke was coming from the chimney. 

But then he heard, from somewhere, far in the depths of 
the earth, the bellowing of a bull. The bellowing came nearer, 
nearer; the earth began to tremble, and he was terribly afraid. 
From the bottom of the grave the bull emerged. It was com- 
pletely black and its horns were dose together. The animal 
took the man, sitting between its horns, and went down again 
through the opening from which it had just emerged. And 
they reached a place where there was a house, from within 
which there came the voice of what seemed to be an old man, 
who said: "Boys, it is true! Our little son has brought a man. 
Go out and relieve him of his load!" A number of black, 
withered men came hopping out, grabbed the arrival, car- 
ried him into the house and set him on the flat of the old 
man's hand. The old man held him to estimate his weight- 
then said: "Take him back! His fate predestines him to be 
reborn up there!" Whereupon the bull again took him on its 
horns, bore him back along the old way, and set him down 
where he had been before. 

When the living corpse came to his senses, night had de- 
scended and it was dark. Shortly thereafter, a black raven 
appeared. It shoved its head between the man's legs, lifted 
him, and flew with him directly upward. In the zenith he 
saw an opening. They went through this to a place where 
both the sun and moon were shining and the houses and bams 
were of iron. All the people up there had the heads of ravens, 
yet their bodies were like those of human beings. And there 
could be heard inside the largest house something like the 
voice of an old man: "Boys! Look! Our little son has brought 
us a man. Go out and bring him in!" A number of young 
men dashed out and, seizing the newcomer, bore him into the 
house, where they set him on the flat of the hand of a gray- 
haired old man, who first tested his weight and then said: 
"Boys, take him along and place him in the highest nest!" 

For there was a great larch up there, whose size can hardly 
be compared to anything we know. Its top surely reached 



heaven. And on every branch there was a nest, as large as a 
haystack covered with snow. The young men laid their charge 
in the highest of these, and when they had set him down, 
there came flying a winged white reindeer, which settled on 
the nest, and its teats entering his mouth, he began to suck. 
There he lay three years. And the more he sucked from the 
reindeer the smaller his body became, until finally he was 
no bigger than a thimble. 

Thus reposing in his lofty nest, he one day heard the 
voice of the same old man, who now was saying to one of his 
seven raven- headed sons: "My boy, go down to the Middle 
World, seize a woman, and bring her back!" The son de- 
scended, and presently returned with a brown- faced woman 
by the hair. They were all delighted, and arranging for a 
celebration, danced. But the one lying in the nest then heard 
a voice that said: "Shut this woman in an iron bam, so that 
our son, who lives in the Middle World, may not come up 
and carry her away! " 

They locked the woman in a bam, and from his nest, in 
a little while, the nestling heard the sound of a shaman 
drum coming up from the Middle World; also, the sound 
of a shaman's song. These sounds gradually grew, coming 
nearer— nearer— till finally, from below, there appeared, in 
the exit- opening, a head, and from the nest could then be 
seen a man of moderate stature and nimble mien, with hair 
already gray. Hardly had he fully appeared, however, when, 
pressing the drumstick, crosswise, to his forehead, he was 
immediately transformed into a bull with a single hom that 
grew forward from the middle of his forehead. The bull 
shattered with a single blow the door of the bam in which 
the woman was locked and galloped off with her, down, and 
away . 34 

What is being witnessed here— the reader may need to be told— 
is the arrival in the upper world of an earthly shaman, coming to 
rescue the soul of a woman who has passed away. For sickness, 
according to a shamanistic theory, can be caused either by the 
entrance of an alien clement into the body, as in Mr. Bridges' ac- 
count of the magic of the Ona (a little mouse, pebble, worm, or 
some less substantial shamanistic projectile), or by the departure 
of the soul from the body and its imprisonment in one of the spirit 
regions: above, below, or beyond the rim of the world. The shaman 


called to a sickbed must first decide, therefore, what sort of disease 
is to be treated. And if what is required is massage, purgative 
herbal treatment, or the sucking away of some intrusive element, 
he will set to work in appropriate style; but if the soul has flown 
his clairvoyant vision must discover its lurking place. Then, riding 
— as they say— on the sound of his drum, he must sail away, on 
the wings of trance, to whatever spiritual realm may harbor the 
soul in question, overwhelm the guardians of that celestial, infernal, 
or tramontane place, and work swiftly his shamanistic deed of 
rescue. This latter is the classic shamanistic miracle and, particu- 
larly when the patient is already dead, it is an act requiring the 
greatest physical stamina and spiritual courage. 

We shall presently view these affairs from a terrestrial stand- 
point, but for the present, let us return to the celestial region of 
our tale. A master shaman has arrived, transformed himself into a 
bull, shattered the bolts of an iron storage house, and galloped 
away with his prize, the soul of a woman whom the gods had 
thought to let die. 

Following him, there went up cries and shouts, laments 
and mourning, and the son of the old man went down again 
to the Middle World. He returned with another, a white- 
faced woman, who was first transformed to a little insect and 
then perfectly hidden in the main, or middle, structural pole 
of the yurt; but soon again, the drum and song of a shaman 
could be heard. And this time, again, the one who arrived 
discovered his patient. He broke the pole in which she was 
hidden and carried her off. 

Whereupon the son of the old man went his way a third 
time, returning with the same white-faced woman as before. 
But now the raven- headed spirit- people in the upper world 
made better arrangements for her protection. They set fire 
to a pile of wood at the exit hole, took glowing brands in 
their hands, and stood about the aperture, alert and waiting. 
Then, when the shaman appeared, they struck him with the 
firebrands and drove him back to the earth. 

At last, the little watcher in the nest, at the end of his 
three years, once again heard the voice of the old man. "His 
years are up," the voice said. "Throw our child down to the 
Middle Earth. He is to go into a woman, to be bom. And 



with the name. Shaman Aadja, which we have given him, he 
shall become famous: no one shall take this name in vain in 
the holy month! " 

Intoning songs and blessings, the seven hurled him down 
to the Middle World, where he immediately lost consciousness 
and could not recall by what means he had come to be where 
he was. It was only when he was five that this recollection 
returned— and then he knew how he had been bom before; 
how he had lived on the earth; and how he had been bom 
above and there had seen with his own eyes the arrival of 
a shaman. 

Seven years after his new birth he was seized by the spirits, 
forced to sing, and cut to pieces. At eight he began to shaman- 
ize and to perform the ritual dance. At nine he was already 
famous. And at twelve he was a great shaman. 

It turned out that he had come into the world this time, 
fifteen versts [about ten miles] from the place of his former 
residence. And when he paid a visit to his former brother 
he found that his wife had married again and that the color- 
ful stallion foal, bom the year of his death, was now a famous 
steed. But his relatives failed to recognize him and he told 
them nothing. One summer day, however, when a man of 
property was celebrating the so-called Isyach Festival— the 
blessing of the sacred kumiss * — which is accompanied by a 
ritual called the Lifting Up of the Soul of the Horse, the young 
shaman there met the same shaman whom he had seen enter- 
ing the Upper World while he had been lying in his nest. The 
older man immediately recognized him and said in a voice 
loud enough for others to hear: "When I once was helping 
another shaman recover the soul of a sick woman, I saw 
you in the nest on the ninth, the uppermost, bough, sucking 
the teats of your animal mother. You were looking out of the 
nest." And the younger shaman, Aadja, hearing these words, 
immediately became furious. "Why do you bring out before 
everybody the secret of my birth?" he asked. To which the 
other answered: "If you are planning evil against me, destroy 
me, eat me! I formerly was nurtured on the eighth bough 
of the same larch on which you were nurtured. I am to be 
bom again and nurtured by the black Raven, Chara-Suorun." 

"And they say," concluded the Yakut narrator, Popov Ivan, 
"that the young shaman, that same night, killed the elder. The 
* An intoxicant fermented or distilled from mare's milk 



shaman spirits swallowed him and thus committed him to death— 
and no one saw. —This ancient tale was told to me by a very old 
man. "35 

Spirits initiate the shamans of Australia in a cave; those of 
Siberia in a tree. Yet do we doubt that the sense of the two ex- 
periences is the same? In Siberia the shaman's flesh is eaten and 
restored; in Australia his intestines are removed and replaced by 
quartz crystals. But are these not two versions of the same event? 
We note that in both cases two inductions are required: one by the 
spirits; one by living masters. But these two are characteristic of 
shamanism wherever it appears. In the various provinces the 
visions differ, likewise the techniques of ecstasy and magic tradi- 
tionally taught; for the cultural patterns through which the shaman- 
istic crisis moves and is realized have local histories and are 
locally conditioned. Yet the morphology of the crisis (it can no 
longer be doubted) remains the same wherever the shamanistic 
vocation has been experienced and cultivated. 

The main point that has here been so vividly illustrated is that in 
the phenomenology of mythology and religion two factors are to 
be distinguished: the non-historical and the historical. In the 
religious lives of the "tough minded," too busy, or simply un- 
talented majority of mankind, the historical factor preponderates. 
The whole reach of their experience is in the local, public domain 
and can be historically studied. In the spiritual crises and realiza- 
tions of the "tender minded" personalities with mystical proclivities, 
however, it is the non-historical factor that preponderates, and 
for them the imagery of the local tradition— no matter how highly 
developed it may be— is merely a vehicle, more or less adequate, to 
render an experience sprung from beyond its reach, as an im- 
mediate impact. For, in the final analysis, the religious experience 
is psychological and in the deepest sense spontaneous; it moves 
within, and is helped, or hindered, by historical circumstance, 
but is to such a degree constant for mankind that we may jump 
from Hudson Bay to Australia, Tierra del Fuego to Lake Baikal, 
and find ourselves well at home. 



In the present chapter on shamanism, that is to say, we are 
touching lightly the problem of the mystical experience— which is 
non- historical and yet, wherever it appears, gives sense and depth 
to whatever imagery may be cherished in the local tradition, 
cultivated by the local priests, and more or less crudely utilized 
for social ends and a bit of spiritual comfort by the local populace. 
The shaman represents this principle on the primitive level, as do 
the mystic, the poet, and the artist in the higher reaches of the 
culture scale. 

I should like to suggest, as a basic hypothesis, therefore, a cor- 
relation of the elementary idea with the mystical and of the 
ethnic idea with the historical factors just described. The elementary 
idea is never rendered or experienced except through the medium 
of the ethnic, and so it looks as though mythology and religion 
could be studied and discussed on the historical plane. Actually, 
however, there is a formative force spontaneously working, like a 
magnetic field, to precipitate and organize the ethnic structures 
from behind, or within, so that they cannot finally be interpreted 
economically, sociologically, politically, or historically. Psychology- 
lurks beneath and within the entire historical composition, as an 
invisible controller. 

But, on the other hand, all mythological imagery and ritual 
forms, both in their bearing on philosophy and in their impact on 
society, can and must be studied historically. As Professor J ensen 
has well said in his strongest criticism of a purely psychological 
approach to mythology, "A myth is not a sequence of independent 
images, but a meaningful whole, in which a particular aspect of 
the actual world is reflected." 36 In Part Two of the present study, 
the aspect represented to man"s imagination by the model of death 
and birth afforded by the plant world was reviewed; in the remain- 
ing chapters of Part Three, we consider the response to the aspect 
represented by the animal world. Within each of these contexts, 
men and women are linked to each other and to their world— 
"engaged," that is to say, in the local ways of life; and the myths 
serve primarily a social end. However in the phase of our subject 
we are now considering— shamanism and the techniques of ecstasy 
— the same symbols work for "disengagement." 


The subjects of our present study may be summarized as follows: 

A. The non- historical, spontaneous factor of the shaministic- 
mystical rapture, released and rendered by way of 

( 1 ) the imagery of the hunting societies 

( 2 ) the imagery of the primitive planters 
( 3 ) the imagery of the hieratic city state 

B. The historical, conditioned, and conditioning factor of the 
local, socially oriented tradition, as represented in 

( 1 ) the imagery of the hunting societies 

(2) the imagery of the primitive planters 

(3) the imagery of the hieratic dty state 

Moreover, the basic form of the shamanistic crisis can be sum- 
marized as follows: 

A. A spontaneously precipitated rupture with the world of com- 
mon day, revealed in symptoms analogous to those of a serious 
nervous breakdown: visions of dismemberment, fosterage in 
the world of the spirits, and restitution 

B. A course of shamanistic, mythological instruction under a 
master, through which an actual restitution of a superior level 
is achieved 

C. A career of magical practice in the service of the community, 
defended from the natural resentment of the assisted communiiy 
by various tricks and parodies of power 

The healing of the shaman is achieved through art: i.e., mythol- 
ogy and song. "When I began to sing," said the shaman Semyonov 
Semyon, "my sickness usually disappeared." And the practice of 
the shaman also is by way of art: an imitation or presentation in 
the field of time and space of the visionary worid of his spiritual 
"seizure." A pole is placed in the center of the yurt, with deats by 
which he dimbs— imitating the magical ascent of his soul, "for the 
tree," as we are told, "grows during the rite and invisibly reaches 
the summit of heaven." 

"I remember how, in the old days," said Alexejev Michail, an 
old Yakut dwelling near the Lena River, "the shamans bellowed 
during the seance like bulls. And there would grow on their heads 
pure, opaque horns. I once saw such a thing myself. There used to 
live in our village a shaman whose name was Konnor. When his 



older sister died, he shamanized. When he did so, horns grew on his 
head. He stirred up the dry day floor with them and ran about on 
all fours, as children do when they play 'bull . 1 He mooed loudly and 
bellowed like a bull ." 37 

"Every shaman," said another informant, Pavlov Kapiton, "must 
have an animal- mother or origin- animal. It is usually pictured in 
the form of an elk, less often as a bear. This animal lives in- 
dependently, separated from the shaman. Perhaps it can best be 
imagined as the fiery force of the shaman that flies over the 
earth ." 38 "It is the embodiment of the prophetic gift of the 
shaman," adds G. V. Ksenofontov; "it is the shaman's visionary 
power, which is able to penetrate both the past and the future ." 39 

The shaman, furthermore, has bird and animal familiars who 
assist him in his task. "The shamans tell us," said Samsonov 
Spiridon, "that they have two dogs who are their invisible as- 
sistants. In the seance they call them by their names, 'Chardas' and 
'Botos . 1 The dogs of a blood-thirsty shaman possessed by evil 
spirits will kill cattle and people: grown up people, however, they 
do not kill. 

"It is also said," this informant continued, "that some shamans 
have a bear and a wolf and that these appear at seances ." 40 

But not all who would like to practice the shaman's art can do 
so. Danilov Pyotr described an attempt that gently failed: 

In the Bertun area there was a man, two summers ago, 
who said that he was soon to become a shaman. He ordered a 
hut built for himself in a clearing in the neighborhood. The 
little house was placed right against the tallest larch; and on 
this there were a lot of shamanistic idols that had been hung 
there after seances. Young, unmarried boys had to build the 
hut of unpeeled branches, according to his instructions. The 
man's name was Michail Sawitch Nikitin, and he was about 
forty years old. 

When the hut that he had built was finished, he went into 
it and remained three days. He had said: "I am to lie there 
like a dead man for three days and shall be cut to pieces. 

On the third day I shall rise again. " For the day of his resur- 
rection he had ordered a shaman to be brought by the name 
of Botshukka, the son of Taappyn, who should perform over 
him the ceremony of the "Lifting-up of the Body" and "In- 



structive Ordination." And they say also that a man named 
Dimitri Saba-Uktuur was with him as an attendant. 

Well, when the shaman who had been summoned arrived, a 
lot of people gathered around the hut to watch the ceremony, 
and I joined them. The shaman had come with his drum 
and the candidate had donned his shaman costume. I was 
dose enough to hear the ordaining shaman, when he had 
summoned his spirits, given them praise, and asked them 
for help. "It is mid-summer," he said. "When the leaves and 
blades of the trees and grasses have already come out, one 
should not perform the ordination of a shaman. The right 
times for that are spring and fall!" And with that, he broke 
ofF the ceremony. 

The other shamanizes to this day in a half-baked way. He 
does so without wearing a shaman costume, performs only 
the preliminary summonses, and can take into himself only 
minor illnesses . 41 

"It is said," dedared Alexeyev Ivan, "that the really good 
shamans are cut up three times in their life, the poor only once. 
The spirit of an exceptional shaman is bom again after his death. 
They say that great shamans are reborn three times." 42 

IV. The Fire-Bringer 

One day, runs a North American tale, as Old Man was walking 
in the woods, he chanced upon something very queer. There was 
a bird sitting on the limb of a tree, making a strange noise, and 
every time it made this noise, its eyes would go out of its head and 
fasten to the tree. Then the bird would make another kind of 
noise, and the eyes would come flying back to their places. 

"Little Brother," said Old Man, "teach me how to do that." 

"If I show you," the bird replied, "you must not let your eyes go 
out of your head more than three times a day. You will be sorry if 
you do." 

"Little Brother, just as you say! The trick is yours, and I will 
listen. " 

The bird taught him bow to do it and Old Man was so pleased 
that he did it three times, right away. Then he stopped. But 
presently he felt very much that he wanted to do it again, and 
after hesitating for some time but still feeling that he wanted to 



do it, he said to himself: "Why did he tell me to do it only three 
times? That bird has no sense. I will do it again." And so he made 
his eyes go out a fourth time; but now they would not come back. 
Then he called to the bird, "Oh, Little Brother, come and help me 
get back my eyes." But the bird did not respond; it had flown away. 
Old Man felt over the tree with his hands, but could not find his 
eyes; and he wandered about that way for a long time, crying and 
calling to the animals for help. 

Now a certain wolf, perceiving that Old Man was blind, began 
to tease him and to make fun of him. The wolf had found a dead 
buffalo and, taking a piece of the meat, which had begun to rot 
and smelled badly, he would hold it dose to Old Man. "I smell 
something dead," Old Man would say. "I wish I could find it; I am 
nearly dead with hunger." And he would feel around for the meat 
and the wolf then would jerk it away. Once, however, when the 
wolf was up to this trick. Old Man chanced to catch hold of him 
and, plucking out one of his eyes, put it into his own head. Where- 
upon he could see, and he recovered his eyes. But he never again 
could do the trick the little bird had taught him . 43 

Another day, as Old Man was traveling about the prairie, he 
overheard some very queer singing. He had never heard anything 
like it before and looked around to learn where it came from. At 
last he spied a circle of cottontail rabbits, singing and making 
medicine; they had built a fire and, having collected a lot of red- 
hot ashes, would lie down in these and sing, while one of their 
number covered them up. And then, after a while, the other would 
uncover them and they would all jump out. And apparently this 
was a great deal of fun. 

"Little Brothers," said Old Man, "it is very wonderful how you 
he in those hot ashes and coals without burning. I wish you would 
teach me how to do it. " 

"Come on. Old Man," said the rabbits. "We'll show you how. 
You must sing our song, and stay in the ashes only a short time. " 
So Old Man began to sing, and he lay down, and they covered him 
with coals and ashes, and the heat did not bum him at all. 

"This is very nice," he said. "You have powerful medicine in- 


deed. Now I want to know it all, so you lie down and let me cover 
you up." 

All the rabbits lay down in the ashes, and then he put the whole 
lire over them. Only one old rabbit got out, and when Old Man 
was about to put her back, she said, "Pity me, my children are 
about to be bom." "All right," he said. "I shall let you go, so that 
there will continue to be rabbits; but I shall roast these others 
nicely and have my feast. ' ' 

He put more wood on the lire and, when the rabbits were cooked, 
cut some red- willow brush and laid them on it to cool. The grease 
soaked into the branches, so that even today, if you hold red 
willow over a lire, you will see the grease on the bark And you 
can see, too. that, ever since, the rabbits have a burnt place on 
their backs where the one that got away was singed . 44 

One day the trickster, in the form of a coyote, killed a buffalo 
and while his right arm was skinning it with a knife his left sud- 
denly grabbed the animal. "Give that back to me," the right arm 
shouted. "This is mine!" The left arm grabbed again, and the 
right drove it off with the knife. The left grabbed again and the 
guarrel became a vicious fight. And when the left arm was all cut 
up and bleeding. Trickster cried, "Oh, why did I do this? Why 
did I let this happen? How I suffer !" 45 

Another day, he took an elk's liver and made a vagina of it, took 
the elk's kidneys and made breasts, donned a woman's dress that 
was too tight for him, and thus transformed himself into a very 
pretty woman. He let the fox have intercourse with him and make 
him pregnant, then the jaybird, and finally the nit. Then he walked 
to a village, married the chiefs son, and gave birth to four hand- 
some little boys . 46 

When he was one day wandering about aimlessly, he heard 
someone say, "Anyone who chews me will defecate; he will 
defecate." "Well," said Trickster, "why is this person talking in 
this manner?" He moved in the direction from which the voice had 
come and then he heard it again. Looking around, he saw a bulb 
on a bush. "I know very well," he said to himself, "that if I 



chew this I will not defecate. " So he took it, put it into his mouth, 
chewed, swallowed it, and went on. 

"Well," he said, "where is the bulb that talked so much? How 
could such an object influence me in the least? When I feel like 
defecating I shall do so, and no sooner." But while he was speaking 
he began to break a litde wind. "Well," he thought, "I guess this 
is what it meant. It said, though, that I would defecate and I'm 
just breaking a litde wind. In any case, I am a great man even if 
I do expel a litde gas." Then it happened again, and this time it 
was really strong. "Well indeed! How foolish I was! Perhaps this 
is why they call me the Fool!" It happened again, very loudly, and 
this time his rectum began to smart. Next time he was propelled 
forward. "Well, well, " he thought defiantly, "it may give me a little 
push but it will never make me defecate." It happened again and 
this time the hind part of his body was lifted into the air and he 
landed on his knees and hands. "Well, just go ahead, do it again!" 
he cried. "Do it again!" It did, and he went far up into the air, 
landing flat on his stomach. He began to take the matter seriously. 
He grabbed a log, and both he and the log were sent into the air. 
Coming down, the log was on top and he was nearly killed. He 
grabbed a poplar tree; it held, but his feet flew into the air and 
nearly broke his back. Next, the tree came up by the roots. He 
grabbed a large oak tree; this held, but again his feet flew into the 
air. Trickster ran to a village and contrived to have all the lodges 
piled on top of him, together with the people, dogs, and everything 
else. His explosion scattered the camp in all directions and the 
people, coming down, shouted angrily at each other, while the 
dogs howled. Trickster just laughed at them until his insides were 
sore. But then he began to defecate. At first it was only a little, 
but then a good deal, and then so much that he had to begin 
climbing a tree to keep above his excrement. He went on up, 
higher, higher, and reached the top, where he slipped, fell, and 
came out of the bottom of the pile covered and blinded by his own 
filth . 47 

Anyone used to the concept of God the Creator, as that image is 
rendered in the higher mythologies and religions of the agricul- 



turally based civilizations, will surely be surprised to learn that this 
figure of whom we have been reading was the creator of man and 
all the animals. 

Another of his tales^just another of the many that are told of 
his curious adventures— tells of his coming up to the country of 
the Blackfeet from the south, traveling north, and making the birds 
and animals as he passed along. He made the mountains, prairies, 
timber, and the brush first, putting rivers here and there, and 
waterfalls upon them, putting red paint here and there in the 
ground— fixing up the world as we see it today. And he covered 
the plains with grass, so that it might furnish food for the animals. 
He put trees in the ground, and all kinds of animals on the ground. 
And when he made the bighorn with its great head and horns, he 
set it out on the prairie. It did not seem to travel easily on the 
prairie; so he took it by one of its horns, and led it up into the 
mountains where he turned it loose; and it shipped about among 
the rocks, and went up fearful places with ease. So he said, "This is 
the place that suits you; this is what you are fitted for, the rocks 
and mountains." And while he was there in the mountains, he 
made the antelope out of dirt, and turned it loose, to see how it 
would do. But it ran so fast that it fell over the rocks and hurt 
itself. Seeing that this would not do, he took the antelope down 
onto the prairie and turned it loose. It ran away gracefully, and he 
said, "This is what you are suited for." 

Then one day he decided that he would make a woman and a 
child, and so he formed them both of clay. And after he had 
molded the clay in human shape he said to it, "You shall be 
people." Then he covered it up and went away. The next morning, 
returning, he took the covering off and saw that the clay shapes 
had changed a little. The second morning there was still more 
change, and the third still more. The fourth morning he took the 
covering off, looked at the images, and told them to rise and walk; 
and they did so. They walked down to the river with their maker, 
and then he told them that his name was Old Man. 

As they were standing by the river, the woman asked Old Man, 
"How is it? Shall we always live, shall there be no end to it?" And 
he said, "I have never thought of that. We must decide. I shall 



take this chip of dried buffalo dung and throw it into the river. If 
it floats, people will die but in four days become alive again; they 
will die for only four days. But if it sinks, there will be an end of 
them." He tossed the chip into the river and it floated. The woman 
turned and picked up a stone and said, "No, it is not to be like 
that. I shall throw this stone into the river and if it floats we shall 
always live, but if it sinks people must die, so that they shall feel 
pity for each other and feel sorrow for each other." The woman 
threw the stone into the water and it sank. "There!" said Old Man. 
"You have chosen. And so that is the way it shall be." 

The hist people were poor and naked and did not know how to 
live; but Old Man showed them the roots and berries and told 
them how to eat them; and he showed them that in a certain month 
of the year they could peel the bark off certain trees and eat it, and 
that it would be good. He told them that the animals should be their 
food. He made all the birds that fly and told the people that their 
flesh could be eaten. And of a certain plant he would say, "The 
root of this plant, if gathered in a certain month of the year, is 
good for a certain sickness." And thus they learned the powers of 
all the herbs. 

Old Man taught the people how to make hunting weapons and 
to kill and slaughter buffalo, and, since it is not healthful to eat 
the meat raw, gathered soft, dry, rotten wood and made punk of 
it, and then got a piece of hard wood and, drilling a hole in it with 
an arrow point, taught them how to make fire with fire- sticks, and 
to cook the flesh of the animals and eat it. 

And then he said to them, "Now, if you are overcome, you may 
go to sleep and get power. Something will come to you in your 
dream, and that will help you. Whatever those animals who appear 
to you in your sleep tell you to do, you must obey them. Be guided 
by them. If you want help, are alone and traveling, and cry aloud 
for aid, your prayer will be answered— perhaps by the eagles, or 
by the buffalo, or by the bears. Whatever animal answers your 
prayer you must listen." And that was how the first people got 
through the world, by the power of their dreams . 48 

When Trickster, at the end of his wandering, left the earth, he 
made a kettle and dish of stone, boiled a meal, and said, "Now, 


for the last time, I shall eat a meal on earth." He sat on a rock 
and his seat is visible there to the present day. You can see the 
imprint of his buttocks, the imprint of his testicles, the imprints 
of the kettle and the dish. The rock is not far horn where the 
Missouri enters the Mississippi. Then he left, first entering the 
ocean and ther the heavens. He is now under the earth, in charge 
of the lowest of the four worlds. Bladder is in charge of the second. 
Turtle of the third, and Hare of the worid in which we live. 49 

This ambiguous, curiously fascinating figure of the trickster 
appears to have been the chief mythological character of the 
paleolithic worid of story. A fool, and a cruel, lecherous cheat, an 
epitome of the principle of disorder, he is nevertheless the culture- 
bringer also. And he appeared under many guises, both animal and 
human. Among the North American Plains Indians his usual form 
was Coyote. Among the woodland tribes of the north and east, he 
was the Great Hare, the Master Rabbit, some of whose deeds were 
assimilated by the Negroes of America to an African rabbit- 
trickster whom we know in the folktales of Brier Rabbit. The 
tribes of the Northwest Coast knew him as Raven. Blue Jay is 
another of his forms. In Europe he is known as Reynard the Fox; 
but also, on a more serious plane, he appears as the devil. 

Here is a tale told by the Christianized Yakuts of Siberia: 

Satan was the older brother of Christ, but wicked, whereas 
Christ was good. And when God wished to create the earth 
he said to Satan: "You boast of being able to do everything 
and say that you are greater than I; well then, bring up some 
sand from the bottom of the ocean." Satan dove to the bot- 
tom, but when he returned to the surface saw that the water 
had washed the sand out of his hand. He dove twice again, 
without success, but the fourth time changed himself into a 
swallow and managed to bring up a little mud on his beak. 
Christ blessed the morsel, which then became the earth. And 
the earth was nice and flat and smooth. But Satan, planning 
to create a worid of his own, had deceitfully hidden a por- 
tion of the mud in his throat. Christ understood the wile and 
struck him on the back of the neck Whereupon the mud 
squirted from his mouth and formed the mountains; whereas 
originally everything had been as smooth as a plate. 50 



In the carnival customs of Europe this figure survives in the 
numerous clowns, buffoons, devils, Pulcinellas, and imps who 
play the roles, precisely, of the clowns in the rites of the Indian 
Pueblos and give the character of topsy-turvy day to the feast. 
They represent, from the point of view of the masters of decorum, 
the chaos principle, the principle of disorder, the force careless of 
taboos and shattering bounds. But from the point of view of the 
deeper realms of being from which the energies of life ultimately 
spring, this principle is not to be despised. Indeed, in a most 
amazing manner, in the period of the building of the cathedrals of 
the high Middle Ages— as Dr. J ung has reminded us in his article 
"On the Psychology of the Trickster Figure" 51 — there were some 
strange ecclesiastical customs reflecting the grimace of this master 
of chaos: most notably the festum asinorum, which Nietzsche 
parodied in his chapter on the "Ass Festival" in Thus Spake 
Zarathustra. The occasion honored in this whimsical feast was the 
flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, and in the cathedral of 
Beauvais the girl playing the role of Mary, together with the ass, 
went right up to the altar, where she stationed herself at the Gospel 
side, and at the conclusion of each section of the high mass that 
followed, the whole congregation brayed. An eleventh century 
codex states that "at the end of the mass, instead of the words 
Ite missa est ("Go, the mass is ended"), the priest shall bray three 
times, and instead of the words Deo gratias ("God be thanked"), 
the congregation shall bray three times ." 52 

Dr. Jung's view is that "the trickster is a collective shadow 
figure, an epitome of all the inferior traits of character in in- 
dividuals." 53 Such a view, however, is presented from the ground 
of our later "bounded" style of thought. In the paleolithic sphere 
from which this figure derives, he was the archetype of the hero, 
the giver of all great boons— the fire-bringer and the teacher of 

The Buriats in the area of Lake Baikal tell of the Great Spirit, 
Sombol-Burkhan, who, when moving over the waters, saw a water- 
fowl swimming with its twelve young. "Water-bird," he said, "dive 
down and bring me earth— black soil in your beak and red clay 



in your feet." The bird dove, and Sombol-Burkhan scattered first 
the red day on the water and then upon it the black soil; after 
which he thanked the bird. "You shall ever live," he said, "and 
dive in the water ." 54 

This is a more primitive version of the earth-diver theme than 
the Christianized Yakut tale presented. Relieved of the ethical 
dualism of god and devil, it shows the creative force in its primary 
innocence. But the Ostyaks of the Yenisei River area depict the 
creator still more simply, as a shaman. The Great Shaman Doh — 
they say— was hovering over the waters with a company of swans, 
loons, and other water- fowl, finding nowhere to come down and 
rest, when he asked one of his diving birds to plunge and fetch a 
bit of earth from the bottom. The bird dove twice before it brought 
up even a grain; yet the Great Shaman Doh was able to make of 
this bit of mud an island in the sea . 55 

The hunting tribes of North America attribute the same shaman- 
istic earth-fashioning deed to their paleolithic hero-trickster. At 
the time of a great flood we find this ambiguous figure floating 
on a raft full of animals, bidding them dive to bring up some earth. 
Three go down but return exhausted; but then some exceedingly 
powerful swimmer descends— a loon, muskrat, or turtle— and 
after a longtime (in some of the tales even days), he comes floating 
to the surface, belly up, practically dead, but with a bit of dirt 
caught, in his paw. And then Old Man, Coyote, Raven, or the 
Great Hare— in whichever character the trickster is represented — 
removes the bit of mud and, reciting a charm, places it on the 
surface of the water. The particle increases, growing in four days 
to the present size of the earth, the animals step ashore, and all 
begins anew . 56 

It is hardly proper to call such a figure a god, or even to think 
of him as supernatural. He is a super-shaman. And we find his 
counterparts in myth and legend throughout, the world, wherever 
shamanism has left its mark in Oceania and Africa, as well as in 
Siberia and Europe. In Polynesia, Maui is the trickster. We have 
already witnessed a couple of his feats* Br'er Rabbit has taught 

* Supra, pp. 191-195. 



us something of his African form, where he is also Anansi, the 
spider. Among the Greeks he was Hermes (Mercury), the shape- 
bhifter and master of the way to the land of the dead, as well as 
Prometheus, the fire-bringer. In Germanic myth he appeared as 
the mischief-maker Loki, whose very character was fine and who, 
at the time of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, will be the 
leader of the hosts of Hel. 

We may imagine this trickster- hero in his character as Coyote, 
standing one evening on the top of a mountain, looking south. And 
far away he thought he saw a light. Not knowing, at first, what it 
was, by a process of divination he learned that he was seeing 
fire; and so, making up his mind to procure this wonder for man- 
kind, he gathered a company of companions: Fox, Wolf, Antelope 
—all the good runners went along. And after traveling a very 
great way, they all reached the house of the Fire People, to whom 
they said: "We have come to visit you, to dance, to play and to 
gamble." And so, in their honor, preparations were made for a 
dance, to be held that night. 

Coyote prepared a headdress for himself, made of pitchy yellow- 
pine shavings, with long fringes of cedar bark, reaching to the 
ground. The Fire People danced first, and the fire was very low. 
Then Coyote and his people began to dance around the flame, and 
they complained that they could not see. The Fire People made 
a larger fire, and Coyote complained four times, until finally they 
let it blaze up high. Coyote's people then pretended to be very 
hot and went out to cool themselves: they took up positions for 
running and only Coyote was left inside. He capered about wildly 
until his headdress caught fire, and then, pretending to be afraid, 
he asked the Fire People to put it out. They warned him not to 
dance so dose to the blaze. But when he came near the door, he 
swung the long fringes of his headdress across the fire and ran 
out. The Fire People pursued him and he gave his headdress to 
Antelope, who ran and passed it on to the next runner; and so it 
went in relay. One by one, the Fire People caught up with the 
animals and killed them, until the only one left was Coyote; and 
they nearly caught him too, but he ran behind a tree and gave the 


fire to the tree. Snee then, men have been able to draw fire with 
fire-sticks from the wood of trees . 57 

This version of the great event is from the Thompson River 
Indians of British Columbia. The Creek Indians of Georgia and 
Alabama, some three thousand miles away, present their trickster 
Rabbit in precisely the same adventure, dance and all, cap afire and 
animal relay , 58 while among the Chilcotin, who are considerably 
north of the Thompson tribes, the hero of the same adventure is 
Raven, again with the fire-cap, the dance, and the animal relay . 59 

Still farther north, however, among the Kaska, a primitive 
Athapascan tribe dwelling on the arctic slopes of the Rocky Moun- 
tains in the farthest reach of British Columbia, the myth takes 
another turn. 

Fire, these people say, was held in possession, long ago, by 
Bear, who had a fire-stone, from which he could draw sparks any 
time he wanted. But the people had no fire; for Bear guarded the 
fire-stone jealously, always keeping it tied to his belt. 

One day, in his lodge, he was lying quietly by his fire when a 
little bird, coming in, approached him. The bear said gruffly, 
"What do you want?" 

The little bind replied, "I am nearly frozen. I have come to 
warm myself." 

"All right," said the bear, "come in. But while getting warm, 
come over here and pick my lice." 

The guest assented. He began to hop all over the bear, picking 
his lice and, while doing so, occasionally picked at the string that 
fastened the fire-stone to Bear's belt. And when the string was 
picked through, the little bind suddenly snatched the stone and 
flew away. 

Now all the animals were outside; for they had arranged for 
this stealing of the fire. And they were all waiting in a line, one 
behind the other. Bear chased the bind and caught up just as it 
reached the first animal of the line, to whom the fire-stone had 
already bear passed. And Bear caught this animal just as it tossed 
the fire-stone to the next. And so it went, right along the line, 
until at last the fire was passed to Fox, who scampered up a high 



mountain. But the bear was so tired by now that he could no 
longer run. And so Fox, on top of the mountain, broke up the 
fire- stone and threw a fragment of it to each tribe. That is how 
the many tribes all over the earth got fire. And that is why there is 
now fire everywhere, in the rocks and in the woods . 60 

A glance at the myths of the Andamanese, a race of extremely 
primitive pygmoid Negritos dwelling in a chain of remote islands in 
the Bay of Bengal, reveals a number of versions of the same 
legend, one of the most widespread of which assigns the deed to 
the kingfisher. The fire, here, was in the possession of the most 
powerful and important figure of the local pantheon, Biliku— a 
temperamental, feminine personification of the power of the north- 
east monsoon, alternately malignant and benign, to whom the 
fashioning of the earth is attributed. And the ancestors having 
determined to steal her fire at a time when she was known to be 
asleep, the kingfisher flew silently into her hut one night and took 
it. But she woke just as he was making away, and, hurling a pearl 
shell, cut off his wings and tail. He dove into the sea and swam to 
a place called Bet- 'ra- kudu, where he gave the fire to one of the 
animals, who passed it on to the bronze- winged dove, and the 
dove turned it over to all the rest. The kingfisher, as a consequence 
of his accident, however, became a man, while Biliku, in a rage, 
withdrew her residence from the earth and has lived, ever since, 
somewhere in the sky . 61 

The young Nietzsche, in The Birth of Tragedy, contrasted the 
biblical myth of the Fall in the Garden unfavorably with what he 
took to be the typically Greek heroic and tragic myth of Prome- 
theus. The whole mythology of the Fall with its concept of dis- 
obedience to a higher power, its serpent's lying misrepresentation, 
its seduction, greed, and concupiscence— in short, its constellation 
of what he termed "feminine affects"— represented for Nietzsche an 
interpretation of human values that could be termed only con- 
temptuous and contemptible; whereas in the bold impiety of the 
Greek Titan— representing man's courageous achievement of his 
own cultural and spiritual stature in defiance of the jealous gods— 
he saw an essentially masculine worth. 



Since Nietzsche's day we have learned that the fire-theft is not a 
specifically Indo-European mythological motif; nor the idea of the 
Fall specifically biblical. However, it is still true that these two 
represent the poles of the Western World's mythological inherit- 
ance. The Greek Titan, a sublimation of the image of the self- 
reliant, shamanistic trickster, who frequently comes off badly at 
the end of an adventure, is neither condemned in his intransigent 
defiance of Zeus nor mocked as a fool by the Greek playwright, 
but offered, rather, as a tragic pattern of man's relationship to the 
governing powers of the natural universe. Whereas the Bible, in its 
spirit of priestly piety, recognizing equally the tension between 
God and man, stands on the side of God and breaks not only man's 
will but the serpent's too. 

Prometheus knows what he has done for mankind, and shouts it 
in God's teeth. Men, before he taught them, knew no arts but in 
the dark earth burrowed and housed, like ants in caves. They had 
no calendar until he taught them to know the rising and setting of 
the stars. He gave them numbers, the arts of writing, farming and 
the harnessing of the horse; metallurgy, medicine, divination; yes, 
and the art, even, of making sacrifice to Zeus. In the bold play of 
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, we hear the ring of that great Titan's 
defiant challenge: 

In one round sentence, every god I hate 
That injures me who never injured him. 

Deem not that I, to win a smile from J ove. 

Will spread a maiden smoothness o'er my soul. 

And importune the foe whom most I hate 
With womanish upliftings of the hands . 62 

In contrast, however, we admire no less the proud though 
humble piety of J ob, who, when shown the wonder of the power 
that had dealt with him unjustly, yet made the world, poured 
ashes on his head. "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, 
but now my eyes see thee, " J ob confessed before his God, "therefore 
I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." 63 

These two traditions are mixed in the inheritance not only of the 
West but of all civilizations and represent the poles of man's 



spiritual tension: that of the priestly representation of the power 
that shaped the universe as a force beyond human criticism or 
challenge, the power that made the sun and moon, the seas. 
Leviathan, Behemoth, and the mountains, before whom man's 
proper attitude is awe; and, on the other hand, that of the in- 
transigency of the self-sufficient magician, the titan power of the 
shaman, the builder of Babel, careless of God's wrath, who knows 
that he is older, greater, and stronger than the gods. For indeed, it 
is man that has created the gods, whereas the power that created 
the universe is none other than the will that operates in man him- 
sdf and in man alone has achieved the consciousness of its king- 
dom, power, and glory. 

Zeus, it may be recalled, had taken offense when Prometheus 
had tricked him at the time of the offering of a sacrifice. The Titan, 
having slain a sacrificial bull, filled the stomach of the beast with 
meat for himself and his people, wrapping the bones deceptively 
and attractively in juicy fat; and when he presented these two 
packaged portions to the king of the gods, bidding him choose the 
one he desired, Zeus, deceived, took the portion wrapped in fat. 
Opening which, and finding nothing but bones, Zeus became a 
god of wrath, and to such an absurd degree that he withheld from 
mankind the precious gift of fire. Whereupon Prometheus, man's 
savior, stole it— according to one version, from the workshop of 
the lame god of fire and metalwork Hephaistos; but, according to 
another, from the hearth of Zeus himself, on the summit of 
Olympus. Prometheus carried with him a hollow stalk of narthex, 
which he ignited at the blaze, and then, waving the stalk to keep 
it burning, came running back Still another version relates that 
Prometheus plucked his fire from the sun . 64 But in any case, Zeus 
took upon him an extreme revenge. For he caused Hephaistos to 
nail the boon-bringcr to the highest summit of the Caucasus, drove 
a pillar through his middle in the way of a stake, and sent an eagle 
to eat his liver. What is tom away of the liver in the day grows 
back at night, so that the torture goes on and on. And yet, the 
punishment, presently, will end; for, as Prometheus knows, there 
is a prophecy that one day his chains will fall away of themselves 
and the world-eon of Zeus dissolve. 


The prophecy is the same as that of the Eddie Twilight of the 
Gods, when Loki will lead forth the rugged hosts of Hel: 

Then shall happen what seems great tidings: the Wolf 
shall swallow the sun; and this shall seem to men a great 
harm. Then the other wolf shall seize the moon, and he also 
shall work great ruin; the stars shall vanish from the heavens. 
Then shall come to pass these tidings also: all the earth shall 
tremble so, and the crags, that trees shall be tom up from 
the earth, and the crags fall to ruin; and all fetters and bonds 
shall be broken and rent. . . . The Fenris-Wolf shall ad- 
vance with gaping mouth, and his lower jaw shall be against 
the earth, but the upper against heaven,— he would gape yet 
more if there woo room for it; fires blaze forth Horn his eyes 
and nostrils. The Midgard Serpent shall blow venom so that 
he shall sprinkle all the air and water; and he is very terrible, 
and shall be on one side of the Wolf. . . . Then shall the 
Ash of Yggdrasil tremble, and nothing then shall be without 
fear in heaven or on earth . 65 

The binding of the shamans by the Hactdn, by the gods and 
their priests, which commenced with the victory of the neolithic 
over the paleolithic way of life, may perhaps be already terminating 
—today— in this period of the irreversible transition of society 
from an agricultural to industrial base, when not the piety of the 
planter, bowing humbly before the will of the calendar and the 
gods of rain and sun, but the magic of the laboratory, flying rocket 
ships where the gods once sat, holds the promise of the boons of 
the future. 

"Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest has not heard 
that God is dead !" 66 

Nietzsche's word was the first pronouncement of the Promethean 
Titan that is now coming unbound within us— for the next world 
age. And the priests of the chains of Zeus may well tremble; for 
the bonds are disintegrating of themselves. 

Chapter 7 


I. The Legend of the Buffalo Dance 

The lives of the Blackfoot Indians of Montana were bound up 
entirely with the comings and goings of the great buffalo herds; and 
one of their best devices for slaughtering a large number was to 
lure the animals over a cliff and butcher them when they fell on 
the rocks below. This same device was used on the buffalo plains 
of Europe in the period of the great caves, c 30,000-10,000 B.C.; 
and no one who has seen the paintings in those caves of the masked 
shamans luring bison with a lively dancing step will fail to marvel 
at the reaches of time and space implied in George Bird GrinneU's 
descriptions of the hunts and drives in which he participated in the 
"Wild West" of the early 70s— while the scholarship of that same 
Europe was trying to reconstruct the long-lost. Aryan past of only 
1500 B.C., and Wagner was building his cycle of The Ring. 

In the evening of the day preceding a drive of buffalo 
into the pis'kun (the buffalo trap), a medicine man, usually 
one who was the possessor of a buffalo rock, In-is'-kim, un- 
rolled his pipe and prayed to the Sun for success. Next morn- 
ing the man who was to call the buffalo arose very early, and 
told his wives that they must not leave the lodge, nor even 
look out, until he returned; that they should keep burning 
sweet grass, and should pray to the Sun for his success and 
safety. Without eating or drinking, he then went up on the 
prairie, and the people followed him, and concealed them- 
selves behind the rocks and bushes which formed the V, or 
chute. The medicine man put on a head-dress made of the 
head of a buffalo, and a robe, and then started out to ap- 




proach the animals. When he had come near to the herd, he 
moved about until he had attracted the attention of some of 
the buffalo, and when they began to look at him, he walked 
slowly away toward the entrance of the chute. Usually the 
buffalo followed, and, as they did so, he gradually increased 
his pace. The buffalo followed more rapidly, and the man 
continually went a little faster. Finally, when the buffalo were 
fairly within the chute, the people began to rise up from be- 
hind the rock piles which the herd had passed, and to shout 
and wave their robes. This frightened the hindermost buffalo, 
which pushed forward on the others, and before long the 
whole herd was running at headlong speed toward the preci- 
pice, the rock piles directing them to the point over the en- 
closure below. When they reached it, most of the animals 
were pushed over, and usually even the last of the band 
plunged blindly down into the pis'kun. Many were killed out- 
right by the fall; others had broken legs or broken backs, 
while some perhaps were uninjured. A barricade, however, 
prevented them from escaping, and all were soon killed by 
the arrows of the Indians. 

It is said that there was another way to get the buffalo 
into this chute. A man who was very skilful in arousing the 
buffalo's curiosity, might go out without disguise, and by 
wheeling round and round in front of the herd, appearing and 
disappearing, would induce them to move toward him, when 
it was easy to entice them into the chute . 1 

Once upon a time— so a certain Blackfoot story goes— the 
hunters, for some reason, could not induce the animals to the fall, 
and the people were starving. When driven toward the diff the 
beasts would run nearly to the edge, but then, swerving to right 
or left, go down the sloping hills and cross the valley in safety. So 
the people were hungry, and their case was becoming dangerous. 

And so it was that, one early morning, when a young woman 
went to get water and saw a herd of buffalo feeding on the prairie, 
right at the edge of the diff above the fall, she cried out, "Oh! if 
you will only jump into the corral, I shall marry one of you." 

This was said in fun, of course; not seriously. Hence, her wonder 
was great when she saw the animals begin to come jumping, 
tumbling, falling over the diff. And then she was terrified, because 
a big bull with a single bound cleared the walls of the corral and 
approached her. "Come!" he said, and he took her by the arm. 



"Oh no!" she cried, pulling back. 

"But you said that if the buffalo would jump, you would many 
one. See! The corral is filled." And without further ado he led her 
up over the diff and out onto the prairie. 

When the people had finished killing the buffalo and cutting up 
the meat, they missed the young woman. Then her relatives were 
very sad, and her father took his bow and quiver. "I shall go find 
her," he said; and he went up the diff and over, out across the 

When he had traveled a considerable distance he came to a 
buffalo wallow— a place where the buffalo come for water and to 
lie and roll. And there, a little way off, he saw a herd. Being tired, 
and considering what he should do, he sat down by the wallow; and 
while he was thinking, a beautiful black and white bird with a long, 
graceful tail, a magpie, came and lighted on the ground dose by. 

"Ha!" said the man. "You are a handsome bird! Help me! As 
you fly about, look everywhere for my daughter, and if you see 
her, say to her, 'Your father is waiting by the wallow. 1 " 

The magpie flew directly to the herd, and, seeing a young 
woman among the buffalo, he lit on the ground not far from her and 
began picking around, turning his head this way and that, and 
when dose to her said, "Your father is waiting by the wallow." 

"Sh-h-h! Sh-h-h!" whispered the girl, frightened, and she 
glanced around; for her bull husband was sleeping dose by. "Don't 
speak so loudly! Go back and tell him to wait." 

Presently the bull woke and said to his wife, "Go and get me 
some water. " 

The woman was glad and, taking a horn from his head, went to 
the wallow. "Father!" she said. "Why did you come? You will 
surely be killed." 

"I came to take my daughter home," the man replied. "Come, 
let us hurry! Let us go ! " 

"No, no! Not now!" she said. "They would pursue and kill us. 
Let us wait until he sleeps again; then I shall try to slip away." 

She returned to the bull, having filled his horn with water. He 
drank a swallow. "Ha!" said he. "There is a person close by here." 

"No! No! No one!" the woman said. But her heart rose up. 



The bull drank a little more; then got up and bellowed. What a 
fearful sound! Up stood the bulls, raised their short tails and 
shook them, tossed their great heads, and bellowed back. Then 
they pawed the dirt, rushed about in all directions, and, coming 
to the wallow, found the poor man who had come to seek his 
daughter. They trampled him with their hoofs, hooked him with 
their horns and trampled him again, so that soon not even a small 
piece of his body could be seen. Then his daughter wailed, "Oh, my 
father, my father!" 

"Aha!" said the bull. "You are mourning for your father. And 
so, perhaps, you can now see how it is with us. We have seen our 
mothers, fathers, many of our relatives, hurled over the rock walls 
and slaughtered by your people. But I shall pity you; I shall give 
you just one chance. If you can bring your father to life again, you 
and he may go back to your people." 

The woman turned to the magpie. "Pity me! Help me now!" 
she said. "Go and search in the trampled mud. Try to find some 
little piece of my father's body and bring it back to me. " 

The magpie quickly flew to the wallow, looked in every hole and 
tore up the mud with his sharp beak, and then, at last, found some- 
thing white. He picked the mud from around it and, pulling hard, 
brought out a joint of the backbone. And with this he returned to 
the young woman. 

She placed the particle of bone on the ground and, covering it 
with her robe, sang a certain song. Removing the robe, she saw 
her father's body lying there, as though dead. Covering it with her 
robe again, she resumed her song, and when she next took the robe 
away her father was breathing; then he stood up. The buffalo were 
amazed. The magpie was delighted and, flying round and round, 
set up a clatter. 

"We have seen strange things today," the bull husband said to the 
others of his herd. "The man we trampled to death, into small 
pieces, is again alive. The people's holy power is strong." 

He turned to the young woman. "Now," he said, "before you 
and your father go, we shall teach you our dance and song. You 
must not forget them." 

For these would be the magical means by which the buffalo 



killed by the people for their food should be restored to life, just 
as the man killed by the buffalo has been restored. 

All the buffalo danced; and, as befitted the dance of such great 
beasts, the song was slow and solemn, the step ponderous and 
deliberate. And when the dance was over, the bull said, "Now 
go to your home and do not forget what you have seen. Teach this 
dance and song to your people. The sacred object of the rite is to 
be a bull's head and buffalo robe. All those who dance the bulls 
are to wear a bull's head and buffalo robe when they perform." 

The father and daughter returned to their camp. The people 
were glad when they beheld them and called a council of the 
chiefs. The man then told them what had happened and the chiefs 
selected a number of young men, who were taught the dance and 
song of the bulls. 

And that was the way the Blackfoot association of men's 
societies called I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi (All Comrades) first was or- 
ganized. Its function was to regulate the ceremonial life and to 
punish offenses against the community . 2 And it remained in force 
until the "iron horse" cut across the prairie, the buffalo disap- 
peared, and the old hunters turned to farming and to various 
laboring jobs. 

II. Paleolithic Mythology 

The picture in the huge paleothic temple-cave known as Trois 
Freres, in southern France, of a buffalo- dancer wearing precisely 
the ceremonial garb established in this legend, and functioning, ap- 
parently, in the way of the brave shaman whose power it was to lure 
the animals to their fall, gives a clue— or more than a clue, I 
should say, a very strong suggestion— to the antiquity of the 
legend just told; or, at least, of its theme. Furthermore, in the 
neighboring cave, known as Tuc d'Audoubert, there is a chamber 
in which two bison are represented in bas-relief on a raised 
prominence, around which the footsteps of a dancer have been 
found. The bison represent a cow being mounted by a bull; and 
the dance was performed not on the full soles of the feet, but on 
the heels, in imitation of the hoofs of a beast. We have already 
said that Persephone and Demeter in their animal aspects were to 



Figures in the sanctuary of Trois Fibres 

be seen as pigs, and that Persephone as the bride of the monster 
serpent was a serpent. Here, comparably, as the bull's wife, the 
maiden was, surely, a buffalo cow— so that this may well be an 
early representation of that same divine connubium by which the 
buffalo dance was given to mankind. 

We are reminded, also, of the famous paleolithic figure of a 
naked female known as the Venus of Laussel, which was carved 
in bas-relief on the wall of a rock shelter in southern France as the 
central figure of vdiat was apparently a hunting shrine. She has the 
great hips and breasts typical of the female figures of the early 
Stone Age art, and is holding in her right hand a bison's horn, 
lifted to the level of her shoulder. The left is placed upon her pro- 
truding belly. And sufficient traces of ocher remained when she 
was found to show that she had once been painted red. A number 
of other figures lay about on broken bits of rock within the shelter: 
two females holding in their right hands objects that have not been 
identified; a fourth in a curious attitude, with the head and 
shoulders of another person upside down beneath her, in such a 
position as to have suggested to Dr. G. Lalanne, its discoverer, a 
birth scene ; 3 a lithe male figure, head and arms gone, but in an 
attitude suggesting the throwing of a javelin; and finally, the frag- 
ments of a hyena and a horse, besides a number of slabs and blocks 
incised with feminine genital symbols. The Abbe Breuil, who is the 
world's chief authority on the art of the French caves, assigns 
these manifestations of the mythology of the hunt to an extremely 



early period, namely Aurignacian and Perigordian, which, ac- 
cording to the datings now generally recognized for this art. would 
be c. 30,000 B.C. We do not know the significance of the bison's 
horn in the woman's hand; but it surely was a bison's horn and 
surely, too, the sanctuary served the covenant of man and beast 
in connection with the hunting rites— precisely such a relationship 

The Venus of Laussel 

as that established by the episode of our story. So that while I am 
not suggesting that these findings in southern France from c. 
30,000 B.C. are the illustration of a legend collected c. 1870 A. D. 
on the buffalo plains of the Wild West, it is worth remarking that a 
constellation of shared motifs has begun definitely to emerge. 

On the walls of many of the paleolithic caves, furthermore, the 
silhouetted handprints of participants in the rites have been dis- 


covered, and many of these show the same loss of finger joints 
that we have already remarked among the Indians of the plains. 

"Old- woman's Grandson," ran the words of a Crow Indian's 
prayer to the Morning Star, "I give you this joint [of my finger], give 
me something good in exchange. ... I am poor, give me a good 
horse. I want to strike one of the enemy and I want to marry a 
good-natured woman. I want a tent of my own to live in." 4 
"During the period of my visits to the Crow (1907-1916)," wrote 
Professor Lowie, to whom we owe the recording of this pitiful 
prayer, "I saw few old men with left hands intact." 5 

These are the maimed hands, then, of the "honest hunters," not 
the shamans; for the shamans' bodies are indestructible and their 
great offerings are of the spirit, not the flesh. We are on the trail of 
the popular rites and myths of the earliest periods of human 
society of which we have record— myths and rites of an age far 
greater, apparently, than that of the sacrifice of the maiden, and 
no less great, surely, in their reach across the barriers of space. 
We have already remarked the vast span of the shamanistic tradi- 
tion from pole to pole of the Americas, from Tierra del Fuego to 
the Yenisei, and from Australia to Hudson Bay. We must now 
begin to follow the forms of the general, exoteric hunting rites of 
the paleolithic sanctuaries, down into the dimmest, darkest reaches 
of the well of the past. The clues become fewer and more widely 
spaced as we proceed; and yet, throughout, we may readily 
recognize those that remain as suggesting at least the possibility, 
or even probability, of such rites as those of the buffalo dance, on 
back to the very beginnings of the race. 

Before commencing the voyage, however, let us pause to ex- 
amine the dues that our Blackfoot legend of the buffalo dance 
affords to the mythological atmosphere in which the paleolithic 
hunt was carried out. We have seven dues of particular importance. 

L As in the Ojibway legend of the origin of maize, so here, the 
action is not placed in the mythological age, but in a world like 
the present. For let us not be deceived by the speech and magic 
of the birds and beasts: such speech and magic are still possible to 
shamans, and all the chief charaders in this legend are endowed 
with shaman power. The myths and rites of the Australians, to 



which we were introduced in Part One, Chapter 2, Section v, re- 
ferred to a mythological time fundamentally different from our 
own, when the ancestors shaped the world. Such myths occur also 
in America. It is probable, however, that they represent a stage 
in the development of mythology later than do these personal 
adventure stories of men and women, animals and birds, endowed 
with shamanistic power. For where shamanism is involved, the 
mythological age and realm are here and now: the man or woman, 
animal, tree, or rock possessing shamanistic magic has immediate 
access to that background of dreamlike reality which for most 
others is crusted over. 

Myths and rites referring to the mythological age, when the 
great mythological event took place that brought both death and 
reproduction into play and fixed the destiny of life-in-time through 
a chain reaction of significantly interlocked transformations, be- 
long rather to the world system of the planters than to the 
shamanistically dominated hunting sphere. Whenever such myths 
are found in a hunting society, acculturation from some horticul- 
tural or agricultural center can be supposed. In the case of the 
Australians, the influence came from neighboring Melanesia. Like- 
wise, among the North American tribes there were massive in- 
fluences, both from the high civilizations of Middle America and 
from neolithic and post- neolithic China (after c. 2500 B.c.), whose 
influences can be traced not only south of the Yellow River into 
Indonesia, and from there westward to Madagascar and eastward 
to Brazil,* but also north of the River Amur, into the very zones 
of northeastern Siberia from which the later North American 
migrations sprang. 6 We are dealing, therefore, in these American 
myths, with an extremely complex and not a purely paleolithic in- 
heritance. Yet many clues, as we have just observed, point to at 
least one important strain running back even to the period of the 
Aurignacian caves. 

2. The rescuing hero and central figure of the legend was the 
magpie, without whose work as intermediary nothing could have 
been accomplished, and we readily recognize in him the bird form 

* Cf. infra, pp. 441-443. 



or metamorphosis (khubilgan) of the shaman- trickster. For the 
social function of the shaman was to serve as interpreter and inter- 
mediary between man and the powers behind the veil of nature; 
and this, precisely, is the function of the magpie in this tale. 

3. The dead man's return to life was made possible by the 
finding of a particle of bone. Without this, nothing could have been 
accomplished. He would have passed into some other form, living 
for a time as a troublesome spirit, perhaps, and then returning as 
a buffalo, bird, or something else; but the particle of bone made 
it possible to bring him back just as he had been before. 

We can regard this partide as our sign of the hunters' way of 
thought in these matters, just as for the planting context we took 
the seed. The bone does not disintegrate and germinate into some- 
thing else, but is the undestroyed base from which the same in- 
dividual that was there before becomes magically reconstructed, to 
pick up life where he left it. The same man comes back; that is the 
point. Immortality is not thought of as a function of the group, the 
race, the spedes, but of the individual. The planter's view is based 
on a sense of group participation; the hunter's, on that sense of an 
immortal inhabitant within the individual which is announced in 
every mystical tradition, and which it has been one of the chief 
tasks of ontology to rationalize and define. The two views are 
complementary and mutually exclusive, and in their higher stages 
of development, in the higher religions, have yielded radically 
contrary views of the destiny and righteousness of man on 

For example, in the Hebrew cult, where the myths and rites of 
the earthbound, andent dvilizations of the Near East have been 
assimilated to a profoundly group- conscious tribal unit, the par- 
tidpation of the individual in the destiny of the group is stressed 
to such a degree that for any valid ad of public worship not less 
than ten males above the age of thirteen are required, and the 
whole reference of the ceremonial system is to the holy history of 
the tribe; whereas in the yoga of India, where a powerful shaman- 
istic influence from the great steppe- lands of the north has done 
its work, precisely the opposite is the case, and the proper place 



for a full experience of the ultimate reach of the mystery of being 
is the utter solitude of a Himalayan peak. 

4. The game animals of the legend, refusing the fall and then 
going over it, were acting under the influence of the great bull, 
who represents a type of being that plays a prominent role in 
hunting myths, namely, the animal archetype or animal master. 
We may think of him as comparable to the first bird, whirled 
clockwise around the head of the Apache Hactcin, or the first 
quadruped, from which the others came. Or again, using a 
philosophical term not as remote from primitive thought as it may 
seem, we might say that the great bull represents the Platonic Idea 
of the species. He is a figure of one more dimension than the others 
of his herd: timeless and indestructible, whereas they are mere 
shadows (like ourselves), subject to the laws of time and space. 
They fell and were killed, whereas he was unharmed. He is a 
manifestation of that point, principle, or aspect of the realm of 
essence from which the creatures of his species spring. 

For the fact that the animal species, in contrast to man, are 
comparatively stereotyped in their innate releasing mechanisms 
has made them excellent representatives of the mystery of perma- 
nence in change. Each kind has, so to say, its own group soul. 
No matter how many individual animals may be shot down, others 
keep pouring forth and are ever the same. The biblical notion, the 
Platonic-Aristotelean notion, for which conservative Christians 
have fought a valiant though losing battle, the notion of "fixed 
species"— with all of its pseudo-philosophical implications about 
the timeless will and plan of some master mind, some master pup- 
peteer, and about fixed laws and realms of essence within or sup- 
porting this phantasmagoria of apparent change— we can regard 
as of paleolithic antiquity. For it holds a prominent place in all 
primitive thought. 

5. Since it appears that when the animals went over the fall 
they did so according to the will of their animal master, their flesh 
is to be regarded as the willed gift of that master to the people, 
according to the magical order of nature. And this was the primary 
lesson of the legend for the Blackfeet themselves. Killing buffalo 
is not against the way of nature. On the contrary, according to the 


way of nature, life eats life; and the animal is a willing victim, 
giving its flesh to be the food of the people. 

6. But there is a right and a wrong way to kill. The girl revived 
her father by means of the magic of the rescued piece of bone, 
and when the great bull saw that the people's magic was strong 
enough to bring back to life those apparently dead, he communi- 
cated to them the magical dance and ritual chant of the buffalo, 
by which the animals killed in the buffalo drives might be returned 
to life. For where there is magic there is no death. And where the 
animal rites are properly celebrated by the people, there is a 
magical, wonderful accord between the beasts and those who 
have to hunt them. The buffalo dance, properly performed, insures 
that the creatures slaughtered shall be giving only their bodies, not 
their essence, not their lives. And so they will live again, or rather, 
live on; and will be there to return the following season. 

The hunt itself, therefore, is a rite of sacrifice, sacred, and not 
a rawly secular affair. And the dance and chant received from the 
buffalo themselves are no less a part of the technique of the hunt 
than the buffalo drive and acts of slaughter. Human sacrifice, such 
as we found in the plant- dominated, equatorial domain, where an 
identification of human destiny with the model of the vegetable 
world conduced to rites of death, decay, and fruitful metamor- 
phosis, we do not find among hunters unless there has been some 
very strong influence from the other zone (as, for example, in 
certain rituals of the Pawnee). The proper sacrifice for the hunter 
is the animal itself, which through its death and return represents 
the play of the permanent substance or essence in the shadow- 
world of accident and chance. One may hear in the chant of the 
dancing buffalo, therefore— slow and solemn, ponderous and de- 
liberate, as is fitting to such great beasts— a paleolithic prelude to 
the great theme of the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, the mystical song 
of the lord Vishnu, the cosmic dreamer of the cosmic dream: 
"Know that by which all of this is pervaded to be imperishable. 
Only the bodies, of which this eternal, imperishable, incompre- 
hensible Self is the indweller, can be said to have an end"; 7 or 
the words of the Greek sage Pythagoras: "All things are chang- 
ing; nothing dies. The spirit wanders, comes now here, now there. 



and occupies whatever frame it pleases. From beasts it passes into 
human bodies, and from our bodies into beasts, but never per- 
ishes." 8 

Compare the Caribou Eskimo Igjugarjuk. "Pinga," he said, 
naming the female guardian of the animals, to whose realm the 
powerful shamans go when they seek to increase a failing food 
supply, "looks after the souls of animals and does not like to see 
too many of them killed. Nothing is lost; the blood and entrails 
must be covered up after a caribou has been killed. So we see that 
life is endless. Only we do not know in what form we shall reap- 
pear after death." 9 

7. It is to be noted, finally, that the sodal organization of the 
Blackfoot tribe itself was based on the hierarchy of the All Com- 
rades Society, which is supposed to have been founded following 
this adventure. Grinnell has given a list of the orders of this hier- 
archy, as they were known at the time of his visit: 

Little Birds boys from 15 to 20 years old 

Pigeons men who have been several times to war 

Mosguitoes men who are constantly going to war 

Braves tried warriors 

All Crazy Dogs men about forty years old 

Raven Bearers (not described) 

Dogs; Tails old men: two societies, but they dress alike and 
dance together 

Homs; Bloods societies with peculiar secret ceremonies 

Soldiers (not described) 

Bulls a society wearing the bull's heads and robes. 10 

And so it appears that, just as in the great creative period of 
the hieratic dty state a game of identification with the round dance 
of the planets in the heavens led to an organization of society in 
which the notion of a macrocosmic, calendrically rendered, celes- 
tial order supplied the mythology according to which the "meso- 
cosm" of the state was composed; and as in the tropical areas, 
where the plant world supplied the chief sustenance for mankind 
and the chief model of the mystery of life, a game in which young 
men and women, identified with the first victim of the mythologi- 
cal age, supplied the base and focal episode of a group- coordinating 



ceremonial structure; so here, the game of identification was played 
in relation to the animals— and in particular those upon which the 
life of the human society depended. And the game was that of a 
mutual understanding, supposed to exist between the two worlds, 
realized and represented in rites, upon the proper performance 
of which depended the well-being of both the animals and their 
companions and co-players, men. This game provided the basis 
for the idea of the totem, to which so much attention was given 
by anthropologists in the last years of the nineteenth century that 
every appearance of an animal anywhere in myth or rite was inter- 
preted as a vestige of totemism— whereas, actually, totemism is 
but one aspect or inflection of a larger principle, which is repre- 
sented equally well in the "animal master" and in the "animal 
guardian" or personal patron. 

In a totemistically conceived society the various dans or groups 
are regarded as having semi- animal, semi- human ancestors, from 
which the animal spedes of like name is likewise descended; and 
the members of the clan are prohibited both from killing and eat- 
ing the beasts who are their cousins and from marrying within 
their totem group. Many North American Indian tribes and most 
Australian are totemistic, and there is reason to believe that the 
idea goes far back into the past. However, it does not exhaust by 
any means the modes of relationship of the hunting world to that 
of their neighbors and companions in life, the beasts. For the ani- 
mals are great shamans and great teachers, as well as co- descend- 
ants of the totem ancestors. They 1311 the world of the hunter, in- 
side and out. And any beast that may pass, whether flying as a 
bird, trotting as a quadruped, or wriggling in the way of a snake, 
may be a messenger signaling some wonder— perhaps the trans- 
formation of a shaman, or one's personal guardian come to bestow 
its warning or protection. 

III. The Ritual of the Returned Blood 

One of the most illuminating glimpses into the very deep well 
of past into which we are about to plunge, where in the long ages 
before mankind was struck by the principle of destiny of the 



vegetable kingdom it was the mystery of the deathless animal 
herd and the laws of the hunt that ruled his spirit, Frobenius re- 
cords in one of his accounts of his journeys in Africa: 

In the year 1905, in the jungle area between Kasai and 
Luebo [in the Belgian Congo], I encountered some representa- 
tives of those hunting tribes, driven from the plateau to the 
refuge of the Congo jungle, who have become known to the 
literature of Africa as "Pygmies." Four of their number, 
three men and a woman, then accompanied the expedition 
for about a week. One day — it was toward evening and we 
had already begun to get along with each other famously— 
there was again a pressing need for replenishments in the 
camp kitchen and I asked the three little men if they would 
get us an antelope, which for them, as hunters, would be an 
easy task. They looked at me, however, in amazement, and 
one of them finally came out with the answer that, surely, 
they would be glad to do that little thing for us, but today it 
would of course be impossible, since no preparations had been 
made. The conclusion of what turned out to be the very long 
transaction was that the hunters declared themselves ready 
to make their preparations next morning at dawn. And with 
that, we parted. The men then began scouting about and 
finally settled upon a high place on a nearby hill. 

Since I was very curious to know whereof the preparations 
of these people might consist, 1 got up before sunrise and 
hid in some bushes near the clearing that the little fellows 
had chosen the night before for their preparations. When it 
was still dark the men arrived; but not alone. They were ac- 
companied by the woman. The men crouched on the ground 
and cleared the area of all bits of growth, after which they 
smoothed it flat. One of them then drew something in the sand 
with his finger, while the other men and the woman muttered 
formulae of some kind and prayers; after which silence fell, 
while they waited for something. The sun appeared on the 
horizon. One of the men, with an arrow in his drawn bow, 
stepped over to the cleared ground. In a couple of moments 
the rays of the sun struck the drawing and at the same in- 
stant the following took place at lightning speed: the woman 
lifted her hands as though reaching for the sun and uttered 
loudly some unintelligible syllables; the man released his ar- 
row; the woman cried out again; then the men dashed into 
the forest with their weapons. The woman remained standing 
a few minutes and then returned to the camp. When she had 



left, I came out of my hiding and saw that what had been 
drawn on the ground was an antelope, some four feet long: 
and the arrow was stuck in its neck 
While the men were gone I wanted to return to the place 
to try to take a photograph, but the woman, who stayed dose 
to me, kept me from doing so, and begged me earnestly to 
give up my plan. And so, the expedition wait on. The hunters 
caught up with us that afternoon with a beautiful buck It had 
been shot with an arrow through the neck The little people 
delivered their quarry and went, then, with a few tufts of its 
hair and a calabash full of its blood back to their place on 
the hill. They caught up with us again only two days later and 
that evening, to Tie froth of palm wine, I brought myself to 
speak about the matter with the most trusting of my little 
trio. He was the oldest of the three. And he told me simply 
that he and the others had run back to plaster the hair and 
blood on their drawing of the antelope, pull out the arrow, and 
then erase the picture. As to the sense of the operation, noth- 
ing could be learned, except that he said that if they did not 
do this the "blood" of the antelope would be destroyed. And 
the erasure had to be effected at sunrise too. 

He pleaded earnestly that I should not let the woman know 
that he had talked to me about these things. And he seemed, 
indeed, to be greatly worried about the consequences of his 
talk; for the next day our Pygmies left us without saying as 
much as good-bye— undoubtedly at his request, who had been 
the leader of the little team . 11 

We need only recall the words of the Caribou Eskimo Igjugarjuk 
to understand the meaning, and therewith, also, the antiquity and 
durability of this ideology which is found to be the same, funda- 
mentally, whether in the jungles of the Congo or on the tundras 
of Hudson Bay: "The blood and entrails must be covered up 
after a caribou has been killed. So we see that life is endless." 

"It takes a powerful magic," is the comment of Frobenius, "to 
spill blood and not be overtaken by the blood-revenge ." 12 

One thing more: The crucial point of the Pygmy ceremony was 
that the rite should take place at dawn, the arrow flying into the 
antelope precisely when it was struck by a ray of the sun. For the 
sun is in all hunting mythologies a great hunter. He is the lion 
whose roar scatters the herds, whose pounce at the neck of the 
antelope slays it; the great eagle whose plunge traps the lamb; he 


is the luminous orb whose rays at dawn scatter the herds of the 
night sky, the stars. One sees the evidence of this primitive hunting 
myth in the motif, so common in paleolithic art, of the lion pounc- 
ing on the neck of the antelope that has just turned its head to 
look behind it, as well as in that other motif, which is one of the 
first to appear in ancient Sumerian art, of the solar eagle, clutch- 
ing an antelope in each daw. 

The lesson reads, by analogy: The sun is the hunter, the sun's 
ray is the arrow, the antelope is one of the herd of the stars; ergo, 
as tomorrow night will see the star return, so will tomorrow the 
antdope. Nor has the hunter killed the beast as a personal, willful 
act, but according to the provisions of the Great Spirit. And in 
this way "nothing is lost." 

Chapter 8 


I. The Shamans of the Great Hunt 

It is a profoundly moving human experience to visit the vast 
underground natural temples of the paleolithic hunters that abound 
in the beautiful region of the Dordogne, in southern France. One 
drives over the highways of the most recent period of man's self- 
transformation so comfortably that even when one tries very hard 
to imagine what human life must have been during the closing mil- 
lenniums of the Ice Age — when sturdy tribesmen, not yet pos- 
sessing even the bow and arrow, ran down and slaughtered with 
pointed sticks and chipped stones the musk ox, reindeer, woolly 
rhinoceros, and mammoth that ranged in this region over a frozen 
arctic tundra— the contrast of that fabulous vision of the past 
with the gentle humanity of the present is so great that the likeli- 
hood of its ever having actually existed on this earth seems remote 
indeed. One has perhaps paused on the way southward horn Paris 
at the cathedral of Chartres, where the sculptured portals and 
glowing twelfth- and thirteenth-century stained glass bear into the 
present the iconography of the remote Middle Ages. Or perhaps 
one has come around by way of the cities of the Rhone— Avignon, 
Orange, Nrmes, and Arles— where temples, aqueducts, and colos- 
seums in a totally different style, of the most durably cemented 
brick, testify to a period of European civilization older than that 
of cathedrals: that of Rome, two thousand years ago, when Ovid 
was composing his mythological history of the world, the Meta- 
morphoses, and Christ, a Roman subject, was bom in Bethlehem — 
according to tradition, in a cave associated by the local pagans with 




the mythological birth of their annually sacrificed- and- resurrected 
deity Adonis. One is not prepared in any way by such touristic, 
literary, and archaeological experiences of the comparatively recent 
past, however, for the great leap, the real leap backward that the 
mind and heart must take, and do take, in the sacred caverns of 
the Dordogne. 

In the vast, multi- chambered hunting- age sanctuary of Lascaux 
—which has been termed "the Sistine Chapel of the paleolithic" — 
an experience of divinity has been made manifest, not, as at 
Chartres or in the Vatican, in human (anthropomorphic) figura- 
tions, but in animal (theriomorphic). Overhead, on the domed 
ceilings, are wondrous leaping bulls, and the rough walls abound 

The wizard-beast of Lascaux 

in animal scenes that transmute the huge grotto into the vision 
of a teaming happy hunting ground: a herd of stags, apparently 
swimming a stream; droves of trotting ponies of a chunky, woolly 
sort, their females pregnant, full of movement and life; bisons of 
a kind that has been extinct in Europe for thousands of years. And 
among these magnificent herds there is one very curious, arresting 
figure: an animal form such as cannot have lived in the world 
even in the paleolithic age. Two long, straight horns point directly 
forward from its head, like the antennae of an insect or a pair of 
poised banderill as; and the gravid belly hangs nearly to the ground. 
It is a wizard- beast, the dominant manifestation of this whole 
miraculous vision . 1 

Moreover, there is another uncanny painting, even more sug- 
gestive of the mystery of this Stone Age cathedral of hunting magic. 



at the bottom of a deep natural shaft or crypt, below the main 
level of the floor of the cave— a most difficult and awkward place 
to reach. Down there a large bison bull, eviscerated by a spear that 
has transfixed its anus and emerged through its sexual organ, 
stands before a prostrate man. The latter (the only crudely drawn 
figure, and the only human figure in the cave) is rapt in a shaman- 
istic trance. He wears a bird mask; his phallus, erect, is pointing at 
the pierced bull; a throwing- stick lies on the ground at his feet; 
and beside him stands a wand or staff, bearing on its tip the image 
of a bird. And then, behind this prostrate shaman, is a large 
rhinoceros, apparently defecating as it walks away . 2 

Figures in the crvpt of I.ascjus 

There has been a good deal of discussion of this painting among 
the scholars, and the usual suggestion is that it may represent the 
scene of a hunting accident. No less an authority than the Abbe 
Breuil himself has supported this opinion, suggesting that the 
rhino may have been the cause of the disaster . 3 It seems to me 
certain, however, that, in a cave where the pictures are magical 
and consequently were expected to bring to pass such situations 
as they represent, a scene of disaster would not have been placed 
in the crypt, the holy of holies. The man wears a bird mask and 
has birdlike instead of human hands. He is certainly a shaman, 
the bird costume and bird transformation being characteristic, as 
we have already seen, of the lore of shamanism to this day 
throughout Siberia and North America. Furthermore, in our 
Polynesian story of Maui and the monster eel we have learned 



Ceremonial mask: the horns are pointing sticks. 
After Spencer and Gillen. 

something of the power of a magician's phallus; and there is still 
practiced in Australia a lethal phallic rite of magic known as the 
"pointing bone," one variety of which has been described by Geza 
Roheim, who writes: 

Black or hostile magic is predominantly phallic in Aus- 
tralia. ... If a man has been "boned," his dream will show 
it. First he sees a crack, an opening in the ground, and then 
two or three men walking toward him within the opening. 
When they are near they draw a bone out of their own body. 

It comes from the flesh between the scrotum and the rectum. 
The sorcerer, before he actually "bones" his victim, makes 
him fall asleep by strewing in die air some semen or excre- 
ment which he has taken from his own penis or rectum. The 
man who uses the bone holds it under his penis, as if a 
second penis were protruding from him. 

The Pindupi refer to black magic in general as erati, and a 
special type is described as kujur-punganyi ("bad- make"). 
Several men hold a string or pointing bone with both hands 
and, bending down, point backward, passing the magical bone 
just beside the penis. The victim is asleep, and the bone 
goes straight into his scrotum. 



Australians in ceremonial attire with pointing- stick horns. 
After Spencer and Gillen 

"Women also make evil magic," Dr. Roheim continues, "through 
the agency of their imagina;y penis. Luritja women cut their pubic 
hair and make thereof a long string. They take a kangaroo bone 
and draw blood from their vagina. The string becomes a snake 
which penetrates into the heart of their victims." 4 A further ex- 
ample comes from the women of the Pindupi tribe. "They cut the 
hair from their pubes and make a string. Then they send the 
string from one woman to another till it gets to the medicine woman. 
First she dances with the string (tultujananyi) and then she swal- 
lows it. In her stomach it is transformed into a snake. Then she 
vomits it and puts it into water. In the water the snake grows till 
it is wanapu puntu ('big dragon 1 ). The dragon undergoes another 
transformation, becoming a long cloud flying in the air with many 
women seated on it. The cloud becomes a snake again, it catches 
the woman's soul while she is asleep ." 5 

These examples suffice to suggest a plausible symbolic context 
for the pointing penis of the prostrate shaman of Lascaux— as 
well as for the defecation of the passing rhino, who may well be 
the shaman's animal familiar. The position of the lance, further- 
more, piercing the anus of the bull and emerging at the penis, spills 



the bowels from the area between— which is precisely the region 
effected by the "pointing bone" of the Australians. And finally it 
should be noted that the curious horns of the weird wizard beast 
in the upper chamber of the great cave, among the wonderful ani- 
mals of that happy hunting ground, are exactly the same in form 
as the pointing sticks worn in the manner of horns by the per- 
formers in many of the Australian ceremonies of the men's danc- 
ing ground. 6 

Frobenius in North Africa, years before the discovery of Lascaux 
in 1940, noted three late paleolithic wall paintings that bear com- 
parison with that in the crypt of Lascaux. One, from the face of a 
rock wall at Ksar Amar, in the Sahara- Atlas Mountains, shows a 
man with upraised arms before a buffalo; the second, from Fez- 
zan, in southwest Libya, shows a couple dancing before a bull 
(two more dancing couples have been added in a later style); and 
a third, from the Nubian desert, shows three figures with upraised 
arms before a great ram. "It is to be noted," writes Frobenius, 
"that in almost all pictures of this kind the representation of the 
animals has been carried out with great care, while the human 
figures are exceptionally sketchy." But this observation holds true 
for the picture at Lascaux as well as for those that Frobenius had 
seen. "I think that what is shown in these pictures is on no account 
a ceremony," states Frobenius; "for we have pictures of similar 
postures of adoration before elephants and giraffes. It is much 
more likely that, as in the Luebo Pygmy rite * and rock pictures 
in general, what was undertaken was a consecration of the animal, 
effected not through any real confrontation of man and beast but 
by a depiction of a concept in the mind." 7 

Adding up the evidence of the Pygmy rite, the paleolithic North 
African pictures, the concepts of the willing victim, animal master, 
ritual of the returned blood, magic of the pointing bone, and signs 
of shaman power on the sketchily rendered human figure, we can 
surely say that we know, in general, what the function of the 
Lascaux picture must have been, and why, of all in the cave, this 
is the one in the holy of holies. 

* Cf. supra, pp. 296-297. 



The prostrate figure with the bird's head and the curious quest- 
ing beast of the upper cave, furthermore, are by no means the only 
evidences of the presence and importance of shamans in the paleo- 
lithic period of the great caves. In Lascaux itself there is a third 
figure, which the Abbe Breuil has compared to an African prac- 
titioner of magic. 8 Indeed, no less than fifty-five figures of the 
kind have been identified among the teeming herds and grazing 
beasts of the various caves. These make it practically certain that 
in that remote period of our species the arts of the wizard, shaman, 
or magician were already well developed. In fact, the paintings 
themselves dearly were an adjunct of those arts, perhaps even the 
central sacrament; for it is certain that they were associated with 
the magic of the hunt, and that, in the spirit of that dreamlike 
prindple of mystic participation— or, to use Piaget's term, "in- 
dissociation"— which we have already discussed,* their appear- 
ance on the walls amounted to a conjuration of the timeless prin- 
ciple, essence, noumenal image, or idea of the herd into the sanc- 
tuary, where it might be aded upon by a rite. 

A number of the animals are shown with darts in their sides or 
as though struck by boomerangs and clubs. Others, engraved on 
softer walls, are adually pitted with the holes made by javelins 
that must have been hurled at them with force. 9 One thinks of 
the wax images of popular witchcraft, into which a name is con- 
jured, and which then are pierced by needles or set to melt by a 
fire, so that the person may die. 

It is also interesting to note that in most of the caves the ani- 
mals are inscribed one on top of the other, with no regard for 
aesthetic effed. Obviously the aim was not art, as we understand 
it, but magic. And for reasons that we now cannot guess, the 
necromantic pictures were thought to be effective only in certain 
caves and in certain parts of those caves. They were renewed there, 
year after year, for hundreds of centuries. And without exception 
these magical spots occur far from the natural entrances of the 
grottos, deep within the dark, wandering, chill corridors and vast 
chambers; so that before reaching them one has to experience the 

* Supra, pp. 80-87. 



Ml force of the mystery of the cave itself. Some of the labyrinths 
are more than half a mile in depth; all abound in deceptive and 
blind passages, and dangerous, sudden drops. Their absolute, cos- 
mic dark, their silence, their unmeasured inner reaches, and their 
timeless remoteness from every concern and requirement of the 
normal, waking field of human consciousness can be felt even to- 
day— when the light of the guide goes out. The senses, suddenly, 
are wiped out; the millenniums drop away; and the mind is stilled 
in a recognition of the mystery beyond thought that asks for no 
comment and was always known (and feared) though never 
quite so solidly experienced before. And then, suddenly, a sur- 
prise, a visual shock, a never-to-be-forgotten imprint— as follows. 

Let us enter the great system of initiatory passages and cham- 
bers, discovered a few days before the outbreak of the First 
World War, sixty feet below the surface soil of the property of 
Count Henri Begouen and his three sons, at Montesquieu- Avantes 
(Ariege), in the Pyrenees. The count has named the labyrinth 
"Trois Freres" (Three Brothers), in honor of his boys, who found 
it. The corridors, drops, ascents, and vast halls contain some four 
or five hundred rock paintings and engravings, reproductions of 
many of which have not yet been published. But the patient work, 
year after year, of the Abbe Breuil, tracing, deciphering, and dis- 
entangling the figures, interpreting and photographing them, has 
already brought forth such a gallery that we may think of this 
cave as the richest single treasury of dues to the ritual experience 
and mythological lore of the late paleolithic period yet broached. 
It is cut off by a fall of rock underground from the adjoining grotto 
of Tue d'Audoubert, whose sanctuary of the bull and cow of the 
buffalo dance we have already described* Tuc dAudoubert the 
count and his sons had discovered only two years before they en- 
tered the Alice's Wonderland of Trois Freres; and these two under- 
ground systems together, comprising at least a mile of labyrin- 
thine ways, must have constituted, in the very long period of their 
use, one of the most important centers of magic and religion— 
if not, indeed, the greatest— in the world. The period of their use, 
by the way, was at least some twenty thousand years. 

* Supra, p. 287. 



The count and his sons, on J uly 20, 19 14, were on their way across 
a broad meadow to pay a visit to the cave that they had discovered 
two years before, when they sought the shade of a tree, to rest 
from the heat; and a passing peasant, noticing their distress, sug- 
gested that they should go to the trou souffleur, where a cool wind 
came out of the ground even on the hottest day. With caves in 
mind, they followed his direction and found the "blow hole" be- 
hind a clump of bushes. The boys enlarged it, and one descended, 
tied to a rope that they had brought for their other adventure. 
Down, down he went, and some sixty feet were paid out before he 
stopped. He had brought a ball of twine, which he let out behind 
him, like Theseus in the labyrinth of the Minotaur, and a miner's 
lamp to illuminate the corridors, which had not been entered for 
more than ten thousand years. His father and two brothers, wait- 
ing, became nervous when he had been gone for over an hour; 
but then there was a tug at the rope and they hauled him up, 
bursting with excitement. "A completely new cave! With hundreds 
of pictures!" he told them. However, the war came within a month, 
and it was not until 1918 that the exploration of the cave could 
be completed and the Abbe Breuil invited to commence his study. 10 

"The ground is damp and slimy," wrote Dr. Herbert Kuhn, 
describing his visit to the cave in the summer of 1926; 

we have to be very careful not to slip off the rocky way. 

It goes up and down, then comes a very narrow passage about 
ten yards long through which you have to creep on all fours. 
And then again there come great halls and more narrow pas- 
sages. In one large gallery are a lot of red and black dots, just 
these dots. 

How magnificent the stalactites are! The soft drop of the 
water can be heard, dripping from the ceiling. There is no 
other sound and nothing moves. . . . The silence is eerie. 

. . . The gallery is large and long and then there comes a 
very low tunnel. We placed our lamp on the ground and 
pushed it into the hole. Louis [the count's eldest son] went 
ahead, then Professor van Giffen [of Groningen, Holland], 
next Rita [Mrs. Kuhn], and finally myself. The tunnel is not 
much broader than my shoulders, nor higher. I can hear the 
others before me groaning and see how very slowly their 
lamps push on. With our arms pressed close to our sides 



we wriggle forward on our stomachs, like snakes. The pas- 
sage, in places, is hardly a foot high, so that you have to lay 
your face right on the earth. I felt as though I were creeping 
through a coffin. You cannot lift your head; you cannot 
breathe. And then, finally, the burrow becomes slightly 
higher. One can at last rest on one's forearms. But not for 
long; the way again grows narrow. And so, yard by yard, 
one struggles on: some forty-odd yards in all. Nobody talks. 
The lamps are inched along and we push after. I hear the 
others groaning, my own heart is pounding, and it is difficult 
to breathe. It is terrible to have the roof so close to one's 
head. And it is very hard: I bump it, time and again. Will 
this thing never end? Then, suddenly, we are through, and 
everybody breathes. It is like a redemption. 

The hall in which we are now standing is gigantic. We let 
the light of the lamps run along the ceiling and walls: a ma- 
jestic room— and there, finally, are the pictures. From top 
to bottom a whole wall is covered with engravings. The sur- 
face had been worked with tools of stone, and there we see 
marshaled the beasts that lived at that time in southern 
France: the mammoth, rhinoceros, bison, wild horse, bear, 
wild ass, reindeer, wolverine, musk ox; also, the smaller ani- 
mals appear: snowy owls, hares, and fish. And one sees darts 
everywhere, flying at the game. Several pictures of bears 
attract us in particular; for they have holes where the images 
were struck and blood is shown spouting from their mouths. 
Truly a picture of the hunt: the picture of the magic of the 
hunt! 11 

The Abbe Breuil has published a beautiful series of tracings and 
photographs from this important sanctuary . 12 The style is every- 
where firm and full of life— with a spirit, as Professor Kuhn has 
remarked, comparable to the best Impressionist sketches. Actually 
and most amazingly (and, of course, this was one of the features 
that made the discovery of this art so momentous) they seem 
very much closer to us than the hieratic, stiffly stylized master- 
works of archaic Egypt and Mesopotamia, which are so much 
closer to us in time. 

In this awesome subterranean chamber of Trois Freres the 
beasts are not painted on the walls, but engraved— fixing for mil- 
lenniums the momentary turns, leaps, and flashes of the animal 



kingdom in a teeming tumult of eternal life. And above them all, 
predominant— at the far end of the sanctuary, some fifteen feet 
above the level of the floor, in a craggy, rocky apse— watching. 

The "Sorcerer of Trois Freres" 

peering at the visitor with penetrating eyes, is the now famous 
"Sorcerer of Trois Freres." Presiding impressively over the animals 
collected there in incredible numbers, he is poised in profile in 
a dancing movement that is similar, as the Abbe Breuil has sug- 
gested, to a step in the cakewalk; but the antlered head is turned 



to face the room. The pricked ears are those of a stag; the round 
eyes suggest an owl; the full beard descending to the deep ani- 
mal chest is that of a man, as are likewise the dancing legs; the 
apparition has the bushy tail of a wolf or wild horse, and the 
position of the prominent sexual organ, placed beneath the tail, is 
that of the feline species— perhaps a lion. The hands arc the paws 
of a bear. The figure is two and a half feet high, fifteen inches 
across. "An eerie, thrilling picture," wrote Professor Kuhn. 13 
Moreover, it is the only picture in the whole sanctuary bearing 
paint— black paint— which gives it an accent stronger than all 
the rest. 

But who or what is this man— if man he is— whose image is 
now impressed upon us in a way that we shall not forget? 

The Count Begouen and the Abbe Breuil first supposed it to 
represent a "sorcerer," but the Abbe now believes it to be the pre- 
siding "god" or "spirit" controlling the hunting expeditions and 
the multiplication of game. 14 Professor Kuhn suggests the artist- 
magician himself. 15 To the anthropologically practiced eye of Pro- 
fessor Carleton S. Coon of the University of Pennsylvania, on the 
other hand, "this is just a man ready to hunt deer. Perhaps he is 
practicing. Perhaps he is trying to induce the spirit of the forest 
that controls the deer to make a fat buck walk his way." And 
Professor Coon concludes: "Whatever the artist's overt motive in 
painting it, he did it because he felt a creative urge and liked to 
express himself, as every artist does, whether he is painting a 
bison on the wall of a cave or a mural in the main hall of a 
bank." 16 

There must be some scientific way of supporting the romantic 
hypothesis of a man crawling on his belly through a tube forty or 
fifty yards long to relieve a creative urge; otherwise, I am sure, 
the professor would not have made this suggestion. But for my- 
self, 1 prefer the simpler course of assuming that this chamber, and 
the whole cave, was an important center of hunting magic; that 
these pictures served a magical purpose; that the people in charge 
here must have been high-ranking highly skilled magicians (power- 
ful by repute, at least, if not in actual fact); and that whatever 



was done in this cave had as little to do with an urge to self- 
expression as the activity of the Pope in Rome celebrating a Pon- 
tifical Mass. 

Between the two guesses of the Abbe Breuil, however, it is ex- 
tremely difficult to decide— but perhaps not as important to make 
a choice as a modem man might suppose: for if the vivid, un- 
forgettable lord of the animals in the hunters' sanctuary of Trois 
Freres is a god, then he is certainly a god of sorcerers, and if a 
sorcerer, he is one who has donned the costume of a god; and, as 
we know, and see amply illustrated in the ritual lore of modem 
savages, when the sacred regalia has been assumed the individual 
has become an epiphany of the divine being itself. He is taboo. 
He is a conduit of divine power. He does not merely represent 
the god, he is the god; he is a manifestation of the god, not a repre- 

But a picture, too, is such a manifestation. And so, perhaps, the 
most likely interpretation is, after all, the second by the Abbe 
Breuil, namely, that the so-called "Sorcerer of Trois Freres" is 
actually a god, the manifestation of a god— who, indeed, may 
also have been embodied in some of the shamans themselves, dur- 
ing the course of the rites, but here is embodied for us, forever, in 
this wonderful icon. 

First among the features of the great caves that are of para- 
mount importance to our study is the fact that these deep, labyrin- 
thine grottos were not dwellings but sanctuaries, comparable in 
function to the men's dancing grounds of the Aranda; and there is 
evidence enough to assure us that they were used for similar pur- 
poses: the boys' puberty rites and the magical increase of the 
game. And just as every shrine and ceremony in the ancient world, 
as well as among the primitive tribes whose customs we know, 
had its origin legend, so must these sanctuaries of the Old Stone 
Age have had theirs. The enigmatic figures painted into the crypts 
and deepest recesses of the caves almost certainly hold in their 
silence the myths of the ultimate source of the magical efficacy of 
these magnificent shrines. 

The dwellings of the people, on the other hand, were either in 



shallow caves and under ledges, or out on the open plains, in 
various kinds of shelter. A number of the paintings suggest the 
forms of their shacks or houses, while under many ledges abundant 
remains have been found of Old Stone Age life. In fact, in the beauti- 
ful valleys of the Dordogne people are dwelling under those same 
ledges to this day. They are great ledges, left by the wash of mighty 
glacial rivers; and the same rivers now being much smaller and lower 
than they were, they have left a beautiful grassy area between 
their present banks and the tall diffs into which the ledges curve. 
One has to climb a little to reach the comfortable French homes 
that nestle against the overhanging walls. And just beneath the 
earth of these modem homes there is to be found a stratum of 
Gallo- Roman remains, from the period of Vercingetorix and Julius 
Caesar; below that, remains of the earlier Gallic culture world; 
still lower, the neolithic of c. 2500-1000 B.C.— and then the 
paleolithic, level after level: Azilian, Magdalenien, Solutrean, 
Aurignacian, even Mousterian; some fifty thousand years of human 
living in one amazing cross-sectional view. On the topmost level 
you may find a broken bicycle chain; on the bottom a cave- bear 
tooth two inches long. And the concierge who is showing you the 
cut is herself living in a house with the solid rock of the diff for 
its back wall, and she will tell you what the advantages are of a 
a building with such a wall: it is cool in summer and warm in 
winter. The rock, sheer mother rock, affords good protection. 
Meanwhile, out in front, there is to be seen the graceful sweep of 
grass down to the lovely river, and one cannot but recognize and 
feel that for millenniums this has been a fine place for the raising 
of children. Paleolithic men hunted for their food instead of 
growing it, and they walked or ran from place to place instead of 
bicyding or riding in a car. But otherwise? They had their young- 
sters, and their wives sewed clothes— not of cloth, but of leather. 
The men had their workshops for the chipping of flint, and their 
men's dubs in their secret caves. They were living, in the main, 
just about as people do now. And so it has been for some fifty 
thousand years. The tick of time in such a situation does not 
sound quite as loudly as it once did. 



II. Our Lady of the Mammoths 

Now whereas in the mural paintings of the paleolithic caves 
animal forms preponderate, the chief subject of interest among 
the sculptured remains of the same period was the human female; 
and whereas the comparatively rare figures of men appearing 
among the painted animals are masked or otherwise modified in 
such a way as to suggest mythological beings and magical enter- 
prises, the female figurines, carved in bone, stone, or mammoth 
ivory, are nude, and simply standing. Many are extremely obese, 
and of these some are radically stylized in a remarkably "modem" 
manner to give dramatic— and, no doubt, symbolically intended- 
emphasis to the great loins, the pubic triangle, and the nourishing 
breasts. In contrast to the male forms in the paintings, they are 
never masked or otherwise modified to suggest animals, while of 
the hundred and thirty- odd that have been found, only two ap- 
pear to be clothed in anything like a shamanistic attire. The others 
simply are. Indeed, a few scholars have interpreted the bold little 
"Venuses" as paleolithic erotica . 17 But since several have been 
found set up in shrines, it is now certain that they were the objects 
of a cult. Without exception, they lack feet, for they were stuck 
in the ground upright; a few have been discovered actually in situ. 
And so we can say that in the paleolithic period, just as in the 
much later age of the early agricultural societies of the Near East, 
the female body was experienced in its own character as a focus 
of divine force, and a system of rites was dedicated to its mystery. 

Were these the rites, however, of a women's cult, of a men's 
cult, or of both? Were they complementary to, incompatible with, 
or simply dissociated from, the rites of the grottos? Were they 
derived from the same province or stratum of Old Stone Age life 
as the rituals of the caves, or did they represent some totally alien 

Leo Frobenius was the first, I believe, to suggest— on the basis 
of his fundamental distinction between the provinces of the tropical 
forest, where every kind of wood abounds and the art of wood 
sculpture flourishes in strength to this day, and the temperate 



steppe and desert lands, where the chief material is stone and the 
normal art that of lines engraved or scratched on two-dimensional 
surfaces— that the Aurignacian glyptic art of the figurines must 
have received its original impulse from the wood- and ivory-carving 
areas of the south . 18 Professor Menghin too, in his World History 
of the Stone Age , 19 sees a probable relationship between these 
female figurines and the realm of the tropical planters. They repre- 
sent, he suggests, that same mother- goddess who was to become 
so conspicuous in the later agricultural civilizations of the Near 
East and has been everywhere celebrated as the Magna Mater and 
Mother Earth. Should it be shown that there is indeed ground for 
such suggestions, then the beginnings of that mythological system 
of the planting world at which we glanced in our study of the 
sacrifice of the maiden are of much greater age than any dating 
from the proto- or basal neolithic would allow, and we may per- 
haps think of these Aurignacian statuettes as a prelude or up-beat 
to the symphony of hymns that we have already heard, and shall 
hear again, to the great goddess. 

But there is another approach to the same elementary idea, 
which does not invoke the ethnic ideology of the planters. For are 
mothers not mothers on the banks of the Yenisei as well as on the 
Congo? As Franz Hancar has pointed out in his article "On the 
Problem of the Venus Statuettes in the Eurasian Upper Paleo- 
lithic, " 20 human figures of larch and aspen wood are carved to 
this day among the Siberian reindeer hunters— the Ostyaks, Ya- 
kuts, Goldi, etc.— to represent the ancestral point of origin of the 
whole people, and they are always female. The hut is entrusted 
to the little figure when its occupants leave for the hunt; and 
when they return they feed her with groats and fat, praying, "Help 
us to keep healthy! Help us to kill much game!" "The psychologi- 
cal background of the idea," Dr. Hancar suggests, "derives from 
the feeling and recognition of woman, especially during her periods 
of pregnancy, as the center and source of an effective magical 
force ." 21 "And from the point of view of the history of thought," 
he then observes, "these Late Paleolithic Venus figurines come to 
us as the earliest detectable expression of that undying ritual idea 
which sees in Woman the embodiment of the beginning and con- 



tinuance of life, as well as the symbol of the immortality of that 
earthly matter which is in itself without form, yet clothes all 
forms ." 22 

There can be no doubt that in the very earliest ages of human 
history the magical force and wonder of the female was no less 
a marvel than the universe itself; and this gave to woman a pro- 
digious power, which it has been one of the chief concerns of the 
masculine part of the population to break, control, and employ 
to its own ends. It is, in fact, most remarkable how many primitive 
hunting races have the legend of a still more primitive age than 
their own, in which the women were the sole possessors of the 
magical art. Among the Ona of Tierra del Fuego, for example, 
the idea is fundamental to the origin legend of the lodge or Hain of 
the men's secret society. Here is Mr. Lucas Bridges' summary of 
the legend: 

In the days when all the forest was evergreen, before 
Kerrhprrh the parakeet painted the autumn leaves red with 
the color from his breast, before the giants Kwonyipe and 
Chashkilchesh wandered through the woods with their heads 
above the tree-tops; in the days when Krren (the sun) and 
Kreeh (the moon) walked the earth as man and wife, and 
many of the great sleeping mountains were human beings: 
in those far-off days witchcraft was known only to the women 
of Ona-land. They kept their own particular Lodge, which 
no man dared approach. The girls, as they neared woman- 
hood, were instructed in the magic arts, learning how to bring 
sickness and even death to all those who displeased them. 

The men lived in abject fear and subjection. Certainly they 
had bows and arrows with which to supply the camp with 
meat, yet, they asked, what use were such weapons against 
witchcraft and sickness? This tyranny of the women grew 
from bad to worse until it occurred to the men that a dead 
witch was less dangerous than a live one. They conspired to- 
gether to kill ofF all the women; and there ensued a great mas- 
sacre, from which not one woman escaped in human form. 

Even the young girls only just beginning their studies in 
witchcraft were killed with the rest, so the men now found 
themselves without wives. For these they must wait until the 
little girls grew into women. Meanwhile the great question 
arose: How could men keep the upper hand now they had 



got it? One day, when these girl children reached maturity, 
they might band together and regain their old ascendancy. 
To forestall this, the men inaugurated a secret society of their 
own and banished for ever the women's Lodge in which so 
many wicked plots had been hatched against them. No woman 
was allowed to come near the Hain, under penalty of death. 
To make quite certain that this decree was respected by their 
womenfolk, the men invented a new branch of Ona demonol- 
ogy; a collection of strange beings— drawn partly from their 
own imaginations and partly from folk-lore and ancient leg- 
ends— who would take visible shape by being impersonated 
by members of the Lodge and thus scare the women away 
from the secret councils of the Hain. It was given out that 
these creatures hated women, but were well-disposed towards 
men, even supplying them with mysterious food during the 
often protracted proceedings of the Lodge. Sometimes, how- 
ever, these beings were short-tempered and hasty. Their ir- 
ritability was manifested to the women of the encampment 
by the shouts and uncanny cries arising from the Hain, and, it 
might be, the scratched faces and bleeding noses with which 
the men returned home when some especially exciting ses- 
sion was over. 

Most direful of the supernatural visitors to the Hain were 
the homed man and two fierce sisters. . . . The name of the 
homed man was Halahachish or, more usually, Hachai. He 
came out of the lichen- covered rocks and was as gray in ap- 
pearance as his lurking-place. The white sister was Halpen. 
She came from the white cumulus clouds and shared a ter- 
rible reputation for cruelty with her sister, Tanu, who came 
from the red day. 

A fourth monster of the Hain was Short. He was a much 
more frequent participator in Lodge proceedings than the 
other three. Like Hachai, he came from the gray rocks. His 
only garment was a whitish piece of parchment- like skin over 
his face and head. This had holes in it for eyes and mouth and 
was drawn tight round the head and tied behind. There were 
many Shorts, and more than one could be seen at the same 
time. There was a great variation in coloring and pattern 
of the make-up. One arm and the opposite leg might be white 
or red, with spots or stripes (or both) of the other color 
superimposed. The application to the body of gray down from 
young birds gave Short a certain resemblance to his lichen- 
covered haunts. Unlike Hachai, Halpen and Tanu, he was to 
be found far from the Hain and was sometimes seen by 



women when they were out in the woods gathering firewood 
or berries. On such occasions they would hasten home with 
the exciting news, for Short was said to be very dangerous to 
women and inclined to kill them. When he appeared near the 
encampment, the women would bolt for their shelters, where, 
together with their children, they would lie face downward 
on the ground, covering their heads with any loose garments 
they could lay their hands on. 

Besides those four, there were many other creatures of the 
Hain, some of whom had not appeared, possibly, for a genera- 
tion. There was, for instance, Kmantah, who was dressed 
in beech bark and was said to come out of, and return to, his 
mother Kualchink, the deciduous beech tree. Another was 
Kterrnen. He was small, very young and reputed to be the 
son of Short. He was highly painted and covered with patches 
of down; and was the only one of all the creatures of the 
Lodge to be kindly disposed towards the women, who were 
even allowed to look up when he passed. 

"I wondered sometimes," states Mr. Bridges, who was himself 
an initiated member of the Hain, "whether these strange appear- 
ances might be the remains of a dying religion, but came to the 
conclusion that this could not be so. There was no vestige of any 
legend to suggest that any of these creatures impersonated by the 
Indians had ever walked the earth in any form but fantasy ." 23 

Among the Yahgans (or Yamana) too— the southern neigh- 
bors of the Ona, but a very different folk, much shorter in stature 
and devoted not to hunting guanaco in the hills but to fishing and 
sealing along the dangerous shores— there was the legend that 
formerly their women had ruled by witchcraft and cunning. "Ac- 
cording to their story," states Mr. Bridges, "it was not so very 
long ago that the men assumed control. This was apparently done 
by mutual consent; there is no indication of a wholesale massacre 
of the women such as took place— judging from that tribe's my- 
thology— among the Ona. There is, not far from Ushuaia, every 
sign of a once vast village where, it is said, a great gathering of 
natives took place. Such a concourse was never seen before or 
since, canoes arriving from the farthest frontiers of Yahgan-land. 
It was at that momentous conference that the Yahgan men took 
authority into their own hands." And Mr. Bridges concludes: 



"This legend of leadership being wrested from the women, either 
by force or coercion, is too widely spread throughout the world 
to be lightly ignored." 24 

Among the Australians, as Spencer and Gillen have noted, 25 "in 
past times the position of women in regard to their association 
with sacred objects and ceremonies was very different from that 
which they occupy at the present day." At Emily Gap, one of the 
most important sacred spots of the Aranda, for example, there is 
a drawing on the rocks that is supposed to have sprung up spon- 
taneously to mark the place where the altjeringa women of the 
mythological age adorned themselves with ceremonial paint and 
stood peering up, watching, while the men performed those cere- 
monies of animal increase (intichiuma) * from which the women 
today are absolutely excluded. "One of the drawings is supposed 
to represent a woman leaning on her elbow against the rocks and 
gazing upwards." 26 Other observers, also, have noted evidences in 
Australia of an age when the role of women in the mythological 
lore and ceremonial life was more prominent than that accorded 
them today. Father E. F. Worms, of Broome, for example, has 
described a cluster of archaic petroglyphs in the northwestern 
desert, at a site in the upper Yule River area known as Mangula- 
gura, "Woman Island," where all the engravings are representa- 
tions of women. From their prominent vulvas three lines proceed, 
which may represent magical emanations of some kind, and above 
them is a curving picture of the Rainbow Snake. 27 

One is tempted to surmise that there may have taken place in the 
human past either some crisis of which these legends would be 
the widely distributed report, or a number of such crises in various 
parts of the world; and according to the view of the culture- 
historical school represented by the monumental, twelve-volume 
work of Father W. Schmidt on The Origin of the Idea of God, 28 
there is actually evidence enough to justify a historical hypothesis 
of this kind. Father Schmidt and his colleagues have found it 
necessary to distinguish three basic types or stages of primitive so- 
ciety. The first is that of the simplest peoples known to the science 

*Cf. supra, pp. 95 and 106-109. 



of ethnology: the little Yahgans (or Yamana) of the southernmost 
channels and coves of rugged Tierra del Fuego, a number of ex- 
tremely primitive, scattered tribes of Patagonia and Central Cali- 
fornia, the Caribou Eskimo of northern Canada, the Pygmies of 
the Congo and of the Andaman Islands, and the Kumai of South- 
eastern Australia. The ethnological circumstances of these humble 
hunting, fishing, and collecting peoples do not give rise to either 
a strong patriarchal or a strong matriarchal emphasis; rather, an 
essential eguality prevails between the sexes, each performing its 
appropriate tasks without arrogating to itself any special privileges 
or peculiar rights to command. The ceremonies of initiation at 
puberty are not confined to the boys and men, nor separated into 
male and female rites, but are nearly identical for the two sexes. 
Nor do the rites involve any physical deformation or the com- 
munication of mystical secrets. They are simply concentrated 
courses of education for adolescents, to the end of making good 
fathers and mothers of the initiates. Special tribal or group inter- 
ests do not stand in the foreground of the teaching, since the tribal 
feeling in such groups is not greatly developed— the typical social 
unit being merely a duster of twenty to forty parents and children, 
whose main sorial problem is hardly more than that of living har- 
moniously together, gathering food enough to eat during the day, 
and inventing pleasant games to play together after dark. 

The second stage or type of primitive society recognized by 
this culture-historical school of ethnology is that of the large, 
totemistic hunting groups, with their elaborately developed clan 
systems, age dasses, and tribal traditions of ritual and myth. Ex- 
amples of such peoples are abundant on the plains of North Amer- 
ica and the pampas of South America, as well as in the deserts 
of Australia. Their rites of initiation, as we have seen, are secret. 
Women are excluded; physical mutilations and ordeals are carried 
sometimes to almost incredible extremes, and they culminate 
generally in circumcision. Moreover, there is considerable em- 
phasis placed on the role and authority of the men, both in the 
religious and in the political organization of the symbolically ar- 
ticulated community. Not infreguently, the circumcision of the 
boys is matched by comparable operations on the girls (artificial 



or ceremonial defloration, enlargement of the vagina, removal of 
the labia minora, partial or complete clitoridectomy, etc.), but in 
such cases the two systems of ceremonial— the male and the 
female— are kept separate, and the women do not gain through 
their rites any social advantage over the men. On the contrary, 
there is a distinct one-sidedness in favor of the male in these highly 
organized hunting societies, the influence of the women being 
confined— when it exists at all— to the domestic sphere. 

According to the hypothesis of Father Schmidt and his col- 
leagues, the puberty initiations of this second stage or type of 
primitive society have stemmed from those of the first, with, how- 
ever, a bias in favor of the males and therewith an emphasis on 
the sexual aspect of the rites and particularly on circumcision. A 
very different course of development is to be traced, however, in 
the sphere of the tropical gardening cultures, where a third type 
or stage of social organization matured that was almost completely 
antithetical to that of the hunting peoples. For in these areas it 
was the women, not the men, who enjoyed the magi co- religious 
and social advantage, they having been the ones to effect the transi- 
tion from plant- collecting to plant- cultivation . 29 In the simple 
societies of the first sort, the males, in general, are the hunters 
and the women the collectors of roots, berries, grubs of various 
kinds, frogs, lizards, bugs, and other delicacies. Societies of the 
second type evolved in areas where an abundance of large game 
occasioned a herculean development of the dangerous art of the 
hunt; while those of type three took form where the chief sources 
of nutriment were the plants. Here it was the women who showed 
themselves supreme: they were not only the bearers of children 
but also the chief producers of food. By realizing that it was pos- 
sible to cultivate, as well as to gather, vegetables, they had made 
the earth valuable and they became, consequently, its possessors. 
Thus they won both economic and social power and prestige, and 
the complex of the matriarchy took form. 

The men, in societies of this third type, were within one jot of 
being completely superfluous, and if, as some authorities daim , 80 
they can have had no knowledge of the relationship of the sexual 



act to pregnancy and birth, we may well imagine the utter abyss 
of their inferiority complex. Small wonder, furthermore, if, in 
reaction, their revengeful imaginations ran amok and developed 
secret lodges and societies, the mysteries and terrors of which were 
directed primarily against the women! According to the view of 
Father Schmidt, the ceremonials of these secret lodges are to be 
distinguished radically from those of the hunting-tribe initiations, 
their psychological function being different and their history dif- 
ferent too. Admission to them is through election and is generally 
limited: they are not for all. Moreover, they tend to be propa- 
gandists, reaching beyond the local tribe, seeking friends and 
members among alien peoples, and thus bringing it about that, 
for example, in both West Africa and Melanesia the chapters of 
certain lodges are to be found dispersed among greatly differing 
tribes. As already noted,* a particular stress is given in these 
secret men's societies to a skull cult that is often associated with 
the headhunt. Ritual cannibalism and pederasty are commonly 
practiced, and there is a highly elaborated use made of symbolic 
drums and masks. Ironically (yet by no means illogically), the 
most prominent divinities of these lodges are frequently female, 
even the Supreme Being itself being imagined as a Great Mother; 
and in the mythology and ritual lore of this goddess a lunar 
imagery is developed— as we have also already seen. 

In considering such extreme initiation rites among hunters as 
those of the Central Australians, which we reviewed briefly in 
Part One, Father Schmidt calls attention to the secondary influ- 
ences that can readily be shown to have entered the hunting areas 
of Australia from the gardening cultures of Melanesia and New 
Guinea; and comparably, when dealing with Mr. Lucas Bridges' 
friends, the Yahgans and Ona of Tierra del Fuego, he explains 
the Hain, with its anti-feminine antics, as an alien institution, ulti- 
mately derived, through Patagonia, from the planting cultures of 
the South American tropical zone. 

"Whereas the aim of their puberty initiations," he writes in his 
discussion of the primitive hunting tribes of Tierra del Fuego, 

* Supra, p. 177. 



was that of turning boys and girls into competent human 
beings, parents, and tribal members— their teachings and 
examples being based on the firm foundation of a Supreme 
Being, both powerful and good, reposing in eternity— the 
men's festivals not only were addressed to an ignoble, im- 
moral aim, but strove for it through ignoble and immoral 
means. The aim was to undo the harmonious state of equal 
privilege and mutual reliance of the two sexes that originally 
had prevailed in their simple society, supported by economic 
circumstance, and to establish through intimidation and the 
subjection of the women, a cruel ascendancy of the males. 
The means were Hallowe'en burlesques, in which the players 
themselves did not believe, and which, consequently, were 
lies and impostures from beginning to end. And the ill effects 
that issued from all this were not only disturbances of the 
social balance of the sexes, but also a coarsening and self- 
centering of the males, who were striving for such ends by 
such means. 

The exoneration of their action, which the men felt called 
upon to advance in their myth, namely that it was the women 
who had done these things first and that, consequently, the 
performances of the men's lodge were justified, was actually 
an indefensible plea; for there had never been any such prac- 
tice of agriculture in their community as could have given 
rise to the matriarchal supremacy reported in the myth. The 
whole story must have been imported from some other re- 
gion, where a matriarchy based on horticulture had incited a 
reaction of the males and their development of men's societies, 
which then, together with their system of men's festivals, 
were carried to Tierra del Fuego . 31 

The mythological apologia offered by the men of the Ona tribe 
for their outrageous lodge was marvelously close, as the reader 
may have noted, to that attributed to Adam by the patriarchal 
Hebrews in their Book of Genesis; namely, that, if he had sinned, 
it was the woman who had done so first. And the angry Lord of 
Israel— conceived in a purely masculine form— is supposed to 
have allowed a certain value to this excuse; for he then promptly 
made the whole race of woman subject to the male. "I will greatly 
multiply your pain in childbearing," the Lord God is declared to 
have announced; "in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your 
desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you ." 32 



This curious mythological idea, and the still more curious fact 
that for nearly two thousand years it was accepted throughout the 
Western World as the absolutely dependable account of an event 
supposed to have taken place about a fortnight after the creation 
of the universe, poses forcefully the highly interesting question of 
the influence of consciously contrived, counterfeit mythologies and 
inflections of mythology upon the structure of human belief and 
the consequent course of civilization. We have already noted the 
role of chicanery in shamanism. It may well be that a good deal 
of what has been advertised as representing the will of "Old 
Man" actually is but the heritage of a lot of old men, and that the 
main idea has been not so much to honor God as to simplify life 
by keeping woman in the kitchen. 

Some such flowery battle in the continuing war of the sexes, 
translated into and supported by mythology, must underlie the 
complete disappearance of the female figurines from the European 
scene at the close of the Aurignacian. We have already remarked 
that in the mural art of the men's temple- caves, which developed 
during the Aurignacian and reached its height in the almost in- 
credibly wonderful happy- hunting- ground visions of the Mag- 
dalenian age, animals preponderate and the human figures are 
male, costumed as shamans, whereas in the Aurignacian cult of 
the figurines, whatever its reference and function may have been, 
the central form was the female nude, with great emphasis placed 
on the sexual parts. Was the revolution the consequence of an in- 
vasion of some kind— a new race, or one of those missionizing 
"men's society" movements of which Father Schmidt has written? 
Or was it the consequence of a natural transformation of the social 
conditions with a transfer of power and prestige naturally to the 

The climate of Europe and the great sweep of plains to Lake 
Baikal was moist and extremely cold during the Aurignacian, 
when the vast icefields of the fourth glaciation (Wiirm), though 
in recession, still held a line at about the latitude of Oslo (60 
degrees north). The landscape was arctic tundra, and the animals 
foraging upon it were the musk ox, woolly rhinoceros, reindeer. 



and woolly mammoth. The arctic fox, hare, wolverine and ptar- 
migan were also present . 33 However, with the further retreat of 
the ice, the climate, though remaining cold, became diy, and steppe 
conditions began to preponderate over tundra. This brought, in 
addition to the animals just named, the great grazing herds of the 
bison, wild cattle, steppe horse, antelope, wild ass, and kiang. The 
alpine chamois, ibex, and argali sheep also challenged the masters 
of the hunt . 34 As a result, the modes and conditions of human 
life greatly changed. In the earlier period of the mammoth, the 
hunting stations appear to have been widely scattered but com- 
paratively stationary; within the protection of the dwellings the 
force and value of the feminine part of the community had a 
sphere in which to make itself felt. In the later period of the great 
herds, however, a shift to a more continuously ranging style of 
nomadism took place, and this reduced the domestic role of 
woman largely to the packing, bearing, and unpacking of luggage, 
while the men developed that fine sense of their own superiority 
that always redounds to their advantage when the jobs to be done 
require more of the running- muscles than of the sitting- fat. In the 
western portions of the broad hunting range of which we have 
been speaking, this more mobile style of the hunt developed along 
with the mural art of the men's temple- caves. Eastward, however, 
in the colder reaches of southern Russia and Siberia, the mammoth 
remained, and therewith also the little figurines of Our Lady of 
the Mammoth, until a much later day. And with this contrast in 
the historical development of the two areas during the late paleo- 
lithic, we have perhaps touched the first level of the profound 
psychological as well as cultural contrast of East and West. 

We have already taken note of the Venus of Laussel and have 
suggested that the Blackfoot legend of the buffalo dance may be 
a remote outrider of the late Aurignacian tradition of which she 
is a representative. In her day the bison had already supplanted 
the mammoth as the main object of the hunt, but among the tribes 
for whom she was carved the naked female had apparently not 
yet been supplanted, in her magical role, by the costumed sha- 
man. We have observed that in the same sanctuary of Laussel, in 
southern France, three other female forms were found (one, ap- 



parently, in the act of giving birth), as well as a number of repre- 
sentations of the female organs. The rock shelter, furthermore, 
was a habitable retreat. The cult involved was not that of the 
great, deep temple- caves; and the fact that most of the figures at 
the site were shattered to such a degree that they could not be re- 
constructed may point to an actual attack designed to break then- 
power. Other examples have been found of such attacks on the 
magical objects of paleolithic camps; the suggestion is not fanciful 
in the least. But whether by some milder process of cultural trans- 
formation, or by such violence as the Ona legend of the massacre 
that broke up the age of women's magic would suggest, the fact 
remains that at the western pole of the broad paleolithic domain of 
the Great Hunt, which stretched from the Cantabrian hills of 
northern Spain to Lake Baikal in southeast Siberia, the earliest 
races of the species Homo sapiens of which we have any record 
made a shift from the vagina to the phallus in their magic, and 
therewith, perhaps too, from an essentially plant- oriented to a 
purely animal- oriented mythology. 

The female figurines are the earliest examples of the "graven 
image" that we possess, and were, apparently, the first objects 
of worship of the species Homo sapiens; for on the level below 
theirs we break into the field of an earlier stage in the evolution 
of our species— that of Homo neanderthalensis, a short-legged, 
short- armed, barrel- chested brute, short- necked, chinless, and 
heavy browed, with highly arched, broad nose and protruding 
muzzle, who walked with bent knees on the outer edges of his 
feet. 35 In contrast, the women represented in our figurines, for all 
their bulk, are definitely of the species Homo sapiens, and are such, 
indeed, as may well be met to this day, opening another box of 
candy, in Polynesia, Moscow, Timbuktu, or New York. 

The celebrated Venus of Willendorf (Lower Austria) is an 
extremely corpulent little female, about 4% inches high, standing 
on pitifully inadequate legs, with her thin, ribbonlike arms resting 
lightly on ballooning breasts. An equally celebrated example of 
the subject is an elegantly carved, highly stylized figure from the 
Grottes de Grimaldi, near Menton (on the Mediterranean shore, 
about five miles west of Monaco), whose form suggests the modem 



work of Archipenko or Brancusi; while a fabulous little master- 
piece in mammoth ivory, 5 3 A inches high, from Lespugue, Haute- 
Garonne, still bolder in its stylization, presents a figure with trimly 
sloping shoulders but extravagant breasts reaching even to the 

The Venus of Lespugue 



groins. A second example from the Grottes de Grimaldi, again 
carved in the "modem" style, is both steatopygous and prominently 
pregnant. However, as already noted, not all the figurines are of 
the portly type. Some are little better than splinters of mammoth 
tusk with the signs of their feminine gender scratched upon them. 

An important discovery was made in 1930 in the Dnieper region, 
at a site known as Yeliseevici, on the right bank of the river Desna, 
between Biyansk and Mglin. It consisted of an accumulation of 
mammoth skulls arranged in the form of a circle, and among them 
a number of tusks, some plaques of mammoth ivory scratched with 
geometrical patterns suggesting the forms of dwellings, others 
with the figures of fish and symbolic signs, and finally a Venus 
statuette, which, even without its lost head, was about six inches 
tall: 36 Our Lady of the Mammoths, actually in situ. 

At another site nearby— Timovka— about two and a half miles 
south of Biyansk and on a high terrace overlooking the river, 
where six large dwelling sites, four storage bins, and two work- 
shops for the fashioning of flints were clustered, there was found a 
piece of the tusk of a young mammoth shaped as a phallus and 
bearing the figure of a geometrically stylized fish. Another bit of the 
tusk carried a rhomboid design. 37 And once again, still farther 
south and still on the right bank of the Desna, about halfway be- 
tween Biyansk and Kiev, an exceptionally rich excavation known 
as Mezin yielded, besides some mammoth ivoiy bracelets en- 
graved with meander and zigzag designs and a pendant of mam- 
moth ivoiy in the form of a tooth, two roughly carved little sitting 
animals, six extraordinarily beautiful mammoth- ivoiy birds, rang- 
ing from 1 Vi to 4 inches long, and ten curiously stylized figurines, 
also of mammoth ivoiy, that have been variously identified as 
female nudes (Abbe Breuil), the heads of long-beaked birds (V. A. 
Gorodcov), and phalli (F. K. Volkov, the discoverer of the site). 

It is impossible not to feel, when reviewing the material of these 
mammoth- hunting stations on the loess plains north of the Black 
and Caspian Seas, that we are in a province fundamentally dif- 
ferent in style and mythology from that of the hunters of the great 
painted caves. The richest center of this more easterly style would 
appear to have been the area between the Dnieper and Don river 



systems— at least as far as indicated by the discoveries made up to 
the present. The art was not, like that of the caves, impressionistic, 
but geometrically stylized, and the chief figure was not the cos- 
tumed shaman, at once animal and man, master of the mysteries of 
the temple- caves, but the perfectly naked, fertile female, standing 
as guardian of the hearth. And I think it most remarkable that we 
detect in her surroundings a constellation of motifs that remained 
closely associated with the goddess in the later epoch of the 
neolithic and on into the periods of the high civilizations: the 
meander (as a reference to the labyrinth), the bird (in the dove- 
cotes of the temples of Aphrodite), the fish (in the fish ponds of 
the same temples), the sitting animals, and the phallus. Who, 
furthermore, reading of the figure amid the mammoth skulls, does 
not think of Artemis as the huntress, the lady of the wild thincp; 
or of the Hindu protectress of the home and goddess of good 
fortune, Lakshmi, in her manifestation as Lakshmi of the Elephants 
(gaja-lak§rrii), where she is shown sitting on the circular corolla 
of a lotus, flanked by two mighty elephants that are pouring water 
upon her, either directly from their trunks or from water jars that 
they have lifted above her head? 

But we must now observe, also, that on the undervrings of one 
of the six beautiful birds of mammoth ivory discovered in this 
site appears the engraved swastika of which I have already 
spoken,* the earliest swastika yet found anywhere in the world. 
Moreover, it is no mere crudely scratched affair, but an elaborately 
organized form suggesting a reference to the labyrinth, the organi- 
zation, furthermore, being counter- clockwise. C. von den Steinen, 
long before the discovery of this site, suggested that the swastika 
might have been developed from the stylization of a bird in flight, 
above all of the stork the enemy of the serpent, and therewith the 
victorious representative of the principle of light and warmth . 38 
And V. A. Gorodcov, developing this idea in connection with the 
context of Mezin, suggests that in the geometrical motifs of the 
swastika, rhombus, and zigzag band or meander we may recognize 
a mythological constellation of "bird (specifically stork), nest, and 
serpent ." 39 

Supra, p. 14L 



The same motifs, it will be recalled, appeared as a fully de- 
veloped ornamental syndrome in the much later ceramic ait of the 
Samarra style, c. 4500-3500 B.C., which was developed in one of 
the chief areas of the high neolithic— directly southward of the 
Ukraine and just across the Black Sea. 

And was it merely by chance that when, finally, in 1932, a 
household shrine was found containing female images, the number 
present within the shrine was precisely three? The site of this im- 
portant discovery was on the right bank of the river Don, at 
Kostyenki, some twenty miles south of Voronesh. And in all, there 
were found in the same station seven fairly well preserved female 
figurines made of mammoth ivory, limestone, and marl, besides 
a large number shattered to bits; a plaque of stone engraved with 
the figure of a woman; a few medallions bearing representations of 
the female genitals; and some little animals made of marl. The 
figurines in the niche were: a badly preserved figure in mammoth 
ivory, without its head, but with well- engraved indications of a 
large necklace hanging from the shoulders to the breast; a large, 
perhaps unfinished figurine (the largest of the Russian series, we 
are told, but its precise dimensions were not given in the rough 
and ready Russian report; 40 H. Kuhn has estimated its height to 
be about one foot), 41 made of limestone, but intentionally broken 
and the four pieces then apparently thrown into the niche; and an 
ill-made figure with a round head, either of mammoth tusk or of 
bone. The niche itself was in the northeastern comer of a dwelling, 
about six feet away from the fireplace, a rounded area, about two 
feet, eight inches across, one foot, eight inches high, and some 
five feet deep, within which there was nothing but these three 
enigmatic statuettes. 42 

The most fascinating and tantalizing site of all, however (which 
suggests more questions than I can even enumerate in the present 
chapter) is at Mal'ta, in the Lake Baikal region, about fifty- five 
miles northwest of Irkutsk, on the Byelaya River. Just here, we 
recall, are the chief centers of shamanism today— whence we have 
already learned of the animal mother, by whom the shaman is 
nourished during his mysterious period of initiation. Here, too, is 
the center from which a considerable part of the arts and some 



of the races of pre-Columbian North America were derived- 
including the Algonquins, of whom both the Blackfeet and Ojibway 
are representative examples. One Soviet school of anthropology has 
classified the Vogul and Ostiak of the nearby Yenisei River basin 
as Americanoid; 43 and the former Curator of Primitive and Pre- 
historic Art at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, Dr. 
Herbert Spinden, placed precisely here the mesolithic-neolithic 
culture center from which he derived what he termed "the 
American Indian Culture Complex" (c. 2500-2000 B.C.), 44 a 
complex the main traits of which would now seem best represented 
by the recently studied mound-builder remains of the so-called 
Adena People (fl. c. 800 B . C- 70 0 A.D.) of the Ohio Valley 45 and 
to the earliest signs of which— in the Red Lake Site, New York— 
a C-14 dating of 2450 ± 260 B.C. has just been tentatively as- 
signed. 46 We are surely, therefore, one way or another, at the 
crucial center of an archaic cultural continuum, running, on the 
one hand, back to the Aurignacian rock shelter of Laussel, on the 
other, forward to the Blackfoot buffalo dance of the nineteenth 
century A.D., and then again to the modem shamanism of the 
Tungus, Buriats, Ostyaks, Voguls, Tatars, even Lapps and Finns. 

Here were found no less than twenty female statuettes of mam- 
moth ivory, from M inches to 5Vi inches tall, one represented as 
though clothed in a cave-lion's skin, the others nude. But in India 
and the Near East the usual animal-mount of the goddess was the 
lion; in Egypt, Sekhmet was a lioness; and in the arts both of 
the Hittites and of the modem Yoruba of Nigeria the goddess 
stands poised on the lion, nursing her child. 

Some fourteen animal burials were found in Mal'ta: six of the 
arctic fox (do we think of Reynard and Coyote?); six of deer, in 
each case with the hindguarters and antlers missing (suggesting 
that the animals must have been flayed before burial, perhaps to 
furnish shamanistic attire); one of the head and neck of a large 
bird; and one of the foot of a mammoth. Sox flying birds, and one 
swimming, of mammoth ivory— all representing either geese or 
ducks— were also found, along with an ivory fish with a spiral 
labyrinth stippled upon its side; an ivory baton, suggesting a 



shaman's staff; and finally-nnost remarkably— the skeleton of a 
rickety four-year- old child with a copious accompaniment of 
mammoth-ivory ornamentation. 

The little skeleton was found lying on its back in the crouch or 
fetus posture, but with its head turned to the left and facing the 
east, the point of the rising, or rebirth, of the sun. Over the grave 
was curved a large mammoth tusk, and within were many signs 
of a highly ceremonious burial. There was a great deal of red 
coloring matter in the grave— a common finding in paleolithic sites, 
as well as in the burial mounds of the North American Adena 
complex— and encircling the head was a delicate crown or forehead 
band of mammoth ivory. The child had worn, also, a bracelet of 
the same material and a fine necklace of six octagonal and one 
hundred and twenty flat ivory beads, from which a birdlike orna- 
mental pendant hung. A second pendant, also in the form of a 
flying bird, lay in the grave, as well as two decorated medallions. 
One of the latter seems to have served as a buckle; the other, 
somewhat larger, showed on one side three cobralike wavy 
serpents, scratched or engraved, and on the other a stippled design 
showing a spiral of seven turns, with three spiraling S-forms en- 
closing it— the earliest spirals known to the history of art. 

We are clearly in a paleolithic province where the serpent, 
labyrinth, and rebirth themes already constitute a symbolic constel- 
lation, joined to the imagery of the sunbind and the shaman 
flight, with the goddess in her classic role of protectress of the 
hearth, mother of man's second birth, and lady of the wild things 
and of the food supply. She is here a patroness of the hunt, just 
as among planters she is the patroness of fields and crops. We 
cannot yet tell from the evidence whether we are to think, with 
Frobenius and Menghin, of a plant- oriented people that had 
moved up into a difficult but rewarding northern terrain of the 
hunt, or vice versa, of a northern hunting race, some of whose 
symbols were later to penetrate to the south. But what is surely 
dear is that a firm continuum has been established from Lake 
Baikal to the Pyrenees of a mythology of the mammoth- hunters in 
which the paramount image was the naked goddess. 



Moreover, an idea can be gained of the possible relationship of 
the shamanistic imagery of the mammoth-ivory birds to the 
character of this goddess from a glance at the Eskimo mythology 
of the "old woman of the seals." 

Whence the earliest Eskimos came, or when they reached their 
circumpolar habitat, we do not know, but some part of northeast 
Siberia, strongly colored by the culture of the Lake Baikal zone, 
would now seem to have been their likely homeland, and circa 
300 B.C. would be about the earliest possible date for their arrival. 
In the walrus- ivory carving of the Punuk period of the Bering 
Strait and Alaskan Eskimo (c. 500-1500 A.D.), where the naked 
female form and a fine sense of geometric ornamentation are 
prominent features, likewise in the shamanism of the Eskimos, 
their stone lamps, bone harpoons, tailoring of skins, and half- 
subterranean lodges, we recognize what must have been a more or 
less direct inheritance of the arts and mythologies of the paleolithic 
Great Hunt. 

The old woman of the seals (amarkuagssak) sits in her dwell- 
ing, in front of a lamp, beneath which there is a vessel to receive 
the dripping oil. She is known also as Pinga, Sedna, and the "food 
dish" (nerrivik). And it is either from the lamp or from the dark 
interior of her dwelling that she sends forth the food animals of 
the people: the fish, the seals, the walruses, and the whales; but 
when it happens that a certain filthy kind of parasite begins to 
fasten itself in numbers about her head, she becomes angry and 
withholds her boons. The word for the parasite is agdlerutt, which 
also means abortion or still-born child. Pinga is offended, it is 
said, by the Eskimo practice of abortion; but also, as Igjugarjuk 
has told us, "she looks after the souls of animals and does not 
like to see too many of them killed. . . . The blood and entrails 
must be covered up after a caribou has been killed." A seal or 
caribou not returned to life through proper attention to the hunting 
ritual is no less an "abortion," a "still-born child" of the old 
woman herself, than a human baby prematurely delivered. And 
so, when these agdlerutt begin to afflict her, the people presently 
notice that their food supply has begun to fail, and it becomes the 



task of some highly competent shaman to undertake in trance the 
very dangerous journey to her dwelling, to relieve the old woman, 
the "food dish," of her pain. 

On the way, the shaman first must traverse the land of the happy 
dead, arsissut, the land of "those who live in abundance," after 
which he must cross an abyss, in which, according to the earliest 
authors, there is a wheel, as slippery as ice, which is always turn- 
ing. Next he must traverse a great boiling kettle, full of dangerous 
seals; alter which he arrives at the old woman's dwelling which, 
however, is guarded by terrible beasts, ravenous dogs, or raven- 
ously biting seals. And finally, when he has entered the house it- 
self, he must cross an abyss by means of a bridge as narrow as 
the edge of a knife . 47 

We are not told by what art his deed of assuaging the old 
woman is accomplished, but in the end she is relieved both of the 
parasites and of her wrath; the shaman returns and, presently, so 
do the seals. 

The title of W. Somerset Maugham's novel. The Razor's Edge, 
which is drawn from averse of the Hindu Katha Upanishad, wherein 
the mind is exhorted to enter upon the path to liberation from 
death, yet warned of the dangers and difficulties of the way: 

Arise! Awake! 

Approach the high boons and comprehend them: 

The sharpened edge of a razor, hard to traverse, 

A difficult path is this: so say the wise ! 48 

should suffice to suggest something of the general context of 
spiritual experience to which the Eskimo figure of a shaman cross- 
ing an abyss on the blade of a knife refers. 

We may think, also, of the gallant Sir Lancelot, in Chretien de 
Troyes' courtly twelfth-century romance, Le Chevalier de la 
charrette, "The Knight of the Cart," crossing the very painful 
"Sword Bridge" to the rescue of his Lady Guinevere, the Queen, 
from the land of death. "And if anyone asks of me the truth," 
says Chretien, "there never was such a bad bridge, nor one whose 
flooring was so bad: a polished, gleaming sword across the cold 
stream, stout and firm, and as long as two lances." The water 



cascading beneath, furthermore, was a "wicked- looking stream, as 
swift and raging, black and turgid, fierce and terrible, as if it were 
the devil's stream; and it is so dangerous and bottomless that any- 
thing falling into it would be as completely lost as if it fell into 
the salt sea." Two lions or leopards were tied to a great rock at 
the farther end of this bridge; and the water and the bridge and 
the lions were so terrible to behold that anyone standing before 
them all would tremble with fear. 49 

We have noticed that among the earliest remains in India of the 
culture complex of the hieratic city state, dating from c. 2000 
B.c.,* representations have been found of figures in yoga posture. 
There is also a little scene from that period showing an apparition 
of the goddess among the boughs of a tree. And in the much later 
monuments of Indian Buddhist art, these same two themes of 
"the path of yoga" and "the goddess" are presented in the Great 
Gates of the Sanchi stupas (c. 200 A.D.), where they are rep- 
resented, respectively, by "the Sun-wheel of the Buddha's Law" 
and "the Goddess of the Elephants," Gaja Lakshmi. 

But we have here broached another abyss, which lures us beyond 
even our longest archaeological fathom-line. For the goddess who 
now has shown herself at the very dawn of the first day of our own 
species, already attended by her well-known court (her serpents 
and her doves and swans; the lion, the fish ponds, and the razor's 
edge by which her shaman- lover is to come to her to relieve her 
of her sterile wrath and make her fruitful again; the little child in 
its confirmation clothes, in the grave- womb, well prepared for 
rebirth and watching for the sun- day of unquenched Sol invictus, 
arising from the mother womb), is still the one who can truly say 
oubefg spov nmXov aveiXs, "No one has lifted my veil . " 

III. The Master Bear 

The Ainus of the northern islands of J apan— Hokkaido, Sa- 
khalin, and the Kuriles— who once also occupied the northern part 
of the main island of Honshu, constitute for the science of 
anthropology a fascinating problem; for, although their body form 
resembles the Japanese and five thousand miles of Mongolians 

* Supra, p. 234. 



separate them from the nearest native white population, their skins 
are white, their eyes caucasoid, and their hair wavy and abundant. 
They have been termed the hairiest people on earth, yet they are 
not more so than many a Russian muzhik. Indeed, their proud and 
sturdy old chieftains, copiously bearded, with their broad noses, 
bushy brows, and spirited eyes, look very much like the author of 
War and Peace, or a child's vision of Santa Claus, while their 
women, many of whom are shamans, have had their natural 
charms embellished with natty slate-blue mustaches, tattooed upon 
their upper lips at the age of thirteen to make them eligible for 
marriage. Professor A. L. Kroeber classifies this race, who now 
number about sixteen thousand, as "a generalized Caucasian or 
divergent Mongoloid type"— if such a statement can be called a 
classification ; 50 but A. C. Haddon more confidently tells us that 
"they undoubtedly are the relics of the eastward movement of an 
ancient mesocephalic [round-headed] group of white cymotrichi 
[wavy- haired people, in contrast to leiotrichi, straight- haired, and 
ulotrichi, woolly- haired], who have not left any other representa- 
tives in Asia ." 51 Their language is unclassified and apparently 
unique, though one of the archaic components of Japanese must 
have been a dialect of the same stock. Furthermore a number of 
their basic mythological and ritual forms bear a dose comparison 
with Shinto. 

The Ainus are a semi-nomadic, paleo- Siberian fishing and 
hunting people, but at the same time a neolithic planting people, 
with the wonderful idea that the world of men is so much more 
beautiful than that of the gods that deities like to come here to 
pay us visits. On all such occasions they are in disguise. Animals, 
birds, insects, and fish are such visiting gods: the bear is a visiting 
mountain god, the owl a village god, the dolphin a god of the sea. 
Trees, too, are gods on earth; and even the tools that men make 
become gods if properly wrought. Swords and weapons, for ex- 
ample, may be gods; and to wear such a one as guardian gives 
strength. But of all these, the most important divine visitor is the 
bear . 52 

When a very young black bearcub is caught in the mountains, it 
is brought in triumph to the village, where it is suckled by one of 



the women, plays about in the lodge with her children, and is 
treated with great affection. As soon as it becomes big enough to 
hurt and scratch when it hugs, however, it is put into a strong 
wooden cage and kept there for about two years, fed on fish and 
millet porridge, until one fine September day, when the time is 
judged to have come to release it from its body and speed it 
happily back to its mountain home. The festival of this important 
sacrifice is called iyomande, which means "to send away," and 
though a certain cruelty and baiting is involved, the whole spirit 
of the feast is of a joyous send-off, and the bear is supposed to be 
extremely happy— though perhaps surprised, if this should happen 
to be the first time that he has visited the Ainus — to be thus enter- 

The man who is to give the feast calls out to the people of his 
village, "I, so-and-so [perhaps, for example, Kawamura Mono- 
kute], am about to sacrifice the dear little divine thing from among 
the mountains. My friends and masters, come to the feast! Let us 
enjoy together the delights of the 'sending away 1 ! Come! Come all!" 

The guests arrive and a number of prayer-sticks (inao: "mes- 
sage-bearers") are fashioned, some two to five feet long, whittled 
in such a way as to leave shavings clustered at the top in a kind of 
head. These are stuck beside the hearth, where the fire- goddess, 
Fuji ("grandmother, ancestress"), is ever present, guarding the 
house; and, after having been revered there, the prayer- sticks are 
brought to the place outside where the bear is to be killed, and 
again stuck in the ground. Two long, thick poles, known as 
ok-numba-ni, "the poles for strangling," are then laid at their 
base. The men approach the bear cage; the women and children 
follow, dancing and singing; and the whole company sits in a 
circle before the bear, while one of their number, moving very 
close to the cage, lets the little visiting god know what is about to 

"O Divine One, you were sent into this world for us to hunt. 
Precious little divinity, we adore thee; pray, hear our prayer. We 
have nourished and brought you up with a deal of pains and 
trouble, because we love you so. And now that you have grown 
big, we are about to send you back to your father and mother. 



When you come to them, please speak well of us and tell them how 
kind we have been. Please come to us again and we shall again 
do you the honor of a sacrifice." 

The bear, secured with ropes, then is taken from the cage and 
made to walk around in the cirde of the people. Blunt little 
bamboo arrows, bearing a black and white geometrical design and 
a compact clump of shavings at the tip (called hepere-ai, "cub 
arrows"), are let fly at him, and he is teased until he becomes 
furious. Then he is tied to a decorated stake, two strong young 
fellows seize him, a third thrusts a kind of long wooden bit be- 
tween his jaws, two more take his back legs, two his front, one of 
the "poles for strangling" is held under his throat, the other above 
the nape of his neck, a perfect marksman sends an arrow into his 
heart in such a way that no blood spills to the earth, the poles are 
squeezed together, and the little guest is gone. 

The bear's head is removed with the whole hide attached, 
carried into the house, and arranged among prayer- sticks and 
valuable gifts by the east window, where it is to share the parting 
feast. A succulent morsel of its own flesh is placed beneath its 
snout, along with a hearty helping of dried fish, some millet 
dumplings, a cup of sake or beer, and a bowl of its own stew. And 
then it is honored with another speech. 

"O Little Cub, we give you these prayer- sticks, dumplings, and 
dried fish; take them to your parents. Go straight to your parents 
without hanging about on your way, or some devils will snatch 
away the souvenirs. And when you arrive, say to your parents, 'I 
have been nourished for a long time by an Ainu father and mother 
and have been kept from all trouble and harm. Since I am now 
grown up, I have returned. And I have brought these prayer- 
sticks, cakes, and dried fish. Please rejoice! 1 If you say this to 
them. Little Cub, they will be very happy." 

A feast is celebrated, there is dancing, while the woman who 
suckled the bear alternately weeps and laughs, along with some of 
the older women, who have suckled many young bears and know 
something of the mixed feelings of waving good-bye. More prayer- 
sticks are made and placed upon the bear's head; another bowl of 
its own stew is placed before it, and when time has been allowed 



for it to finish, the man presiding at the feast calls out, "The little 
god is finished; come, let us worship!" He takes the bowl, salutes 
it, and divides the contents among the guests, a small portion for 
each. The other parts of the beast are then eaten also, while some 
of the men drink the blood for strength and smear a portion upon 
their clothes. 

The head of the bear is then separated from the rest of the skin 
and, being set upon a pole called ke-omande-ni, "the pole for 
sending away," it is placed among a number of other skulls re- 
maining from earlier feasts. And for the next few days the festival 
continues, until every bit of the little god has been consumed. 53 

When a wild bear is killed in the mountains it is carried into 
the hunter's house with honor, by way not of the door but of the 
so-called "god's window"; and such an entry is known as a "god's 
arrival." The old goddess of the fire, guarding the fire in the center 
of the house, is thought to have welcomed the guest invisibly from 
afar, and the god and goddess now talk together by the fireside all 
night. The people sing and play music, meanwhile, to entertain 
them while they chat, and the next day cook and eat the bear with 
gusto. Offerings are made to the bear's head, which is placed in 
a seat of honor, and the divinity, given presents, is ceremonially 
dismissed, to return to his mountain home. 54 

In this goddess of fire, Fuji, the "ancestress and protectress" of 
the house, we have a counterpart, in some way, of the goddess- 
figurines found in the dwellings of the mammoth hunters; for 
they too, apparently, were the guardians of the hearth. In the 
Ainu household there is a place in the sacred northeast comer of 
the lodge, behind the family heirlooms, where a special prayer- 
stick is kept, with a little gash at the top to represent the mouth, 
which is known as chisei koro inan, "ancestral caretaker of the 
house"; and he is addressed as the husband of the fire. 55 The 
Kostyenki niche in which three broken female figurines were 
found was likewise, it will be recalled, in the northeast comer of 
the house* 

Furthermore, we cannot but note that beautiful Mount Fuji, the 

• Supra, p. 329. 



sacred mountain of J apan, is an extinct volcano and that its name, 
though reinterpreted in J apanese to mean, variously, "The Moun- 
tain of Wealth," "Peerless," and "Unmatched," is almost certainly 
of Ainu origin and a reference to the goddess Fire. 56 As goddess of 
the hearth, she and the visiting bear- god of the mountain, there- 
fore, must have memories to share in their ceremonial conversa- 
tion. We also recall the Kaska Indian tale from British Columbia, 
of the bird who stole the fire- stone from Bear.* 

Vestiges of a circumpolar paleolithic cult of the bear have been 
identified throughout the arctic, from Finland and Northern 
Russia, across Siberia and Alaska, to Labrador and Hudson Bay: 
among the Finns and Lapps, Ostyaks and Vogul, Orotchi of the 
Amur river region, Gilyaks, Goldi, and peoples of Kamchatka; the 
Nootka, Tlingit, Kwakiutl, and others of the Northwest American 
Coast; and the Algonquins of the Northeast. 57 And so here is a 
northern drcumpolar hunting continuum in counterpoise to that 
broad eguatorial planting belt which we traced from the Sudan to 
the Amazon in Part Two. And just as there a certain depth in time 
was indicated, going back to perhaps c. 7500 B.c., the dawn of the 
proto- neolithic, so here too there is a depth in time— but how very 
much greater! For in the high Alps, in the neighborhood of St. 
Gallen, and again in Germany, some thirty miles northwest of 
Niimberg, near Velden, a series of caves containing the cere- 
monially arranged skulls of a number of cave bears have been 
discovered, dating from the period (it is almost incredible!) of 
Neanderthal Man. 

Ever since 1856, when the remains of a strangely brutish yet 
manlike skeleton were found in a limestone quarry not far from 
Dusseldorf, in the valley of the Neander, it has been known that 
our fair species was preceded by a coarser, heavier type of human 
being, which now appears to have flourished close to the freezing 
breath of the glaciers for well over a hundred thousand years. 
Professor Hans Weinert estimates the period of Neanderthal Man 
(Homo neanderthalensis) to have commenced about 200,000 

* Supra, pp. 277-278. 



years ago, during the last (Riss-Wiirm) interglacial period, and 
to have dosed not earlier than 75,000 years ago, during the 
centuries of the Wurm glaciation, 58 Heniy Fairfield Osborn, on 
the other hand, suggested a much later date for the disappearance: 



sometime between 25,000 and 20,000 B.C., which is to say, the 
terminus of the Wiirm. 59 Either way, what is certain is that the 
species disappeared toward the dose of the Glacial Age, when it 
was superseded— definitely and definitively— from the Atlantic to 
the Padfic, by those earliest races of Homo sapiens, whose cults 
of the goddess and of the cave we have already viewed. 

Emil Bachler, between 1903 and 1927, excavated three caves 
in the high Alps: the first, WilcLkirchi, between 1903 and 1908; the 
second, Drachenloch, between 1917 and 1922; and the last, 
Wildermannlisloch, from 1923 to 1927. The first and third were 
about seven thousand feet and the second over eight thousand 
above sea level, and they could not have been entered during the 
period of the Wiirm glaciation. Hence their remains have been 
judged to belong to the interglacial period (Riss- Wiirm) at the 
latest; which is to say, not later than 75,000 B.C. 

And what was found? 

Charcoal, flints of pre-Mousterian style, flagstone flooring, 
benches, work tables, and altars for the ritual of the bear— the 
earliest altars of any kind yet found, or known of, anywhere in the 

In Drachenloch and Wildermannlisloch little walls of stone, up 
to 32 inches high, formed a kind of bin, within which a number of 
cave- bear skulls had been carefully arranged. Some of these skulls 
had little stones arranged around them; others were set on slabs; 
one, very carefuly placed, had the long bones of a cave bear (no 
doubt its own) placed beneath its snout; another had the long 
bones pushed through the orbits of its eyes. 60 

The cave in Germany, Petershohle, near Velden, which was ex- 
plored by Konrad Hormann from 1916 to 1922, had closetlike 
niches in the walls, which contained five cave-bear skulls— and 
once again the leg bones. 61 

Now the cave bear, it must be told, for all its size, was not an 
extremely dangerous beast. In the first place, it was not carnivorous 
but herbivorous, and in the second place, like all bears it had to 
go to sleep in the winter. But during the ice age the winters were 
long. The bears would go into the caves to sleep and, while there. 



could be readily killed. In fact, a tribe of men living in the front 
part of a cave with a couple of sleeping bears in the rear would 
have had there a kind of living deep freeze* 

And so now, and finally, at this prodigious depth of the past, 
let us visit a number of human graves, which are, like the altars, 
the earliest of their kind yet found. 

In southern France, in a cave at La Ferrassie, in the Dordogne, 
the remains were unearthed of two Neanderthal adults and two 
children who had been ceremonially buried. One of the elders, 
probably a woman, had been placed in a crouched or flexed 
position in a cavity dug into the floor, legs pressed against her 
body and arms folded upon her breast. The other adult, also 
lying on his back, with legs flexed, was not in a containing cavity 
but on the floor, head and shoulders protected, however, by slabs 
of stone. The two children, lying supine, were in shallow graves. 
And close by was a hole filled with the bones and ashes of a wild 
ox, the remains of an offering of some kind . 62 

Again in the Dordogne, at Le Moustier, a youth of sixteen had 
been buried in a sleeping posture, with his head resting on his 
right forearm, pillowed on a neat pile of flint fragments. Placed 
around him were the charred and split bones of wild cattle, while 
beside his hand was an exceptionally fine Early Mousterian or 
Late Acheulean fist ax . 63 

And once again in the Dordogne, at La Chapelle-aux- Saints, an 
individual of about fifty or fifty-five was discovered, placed in a 
small natural depression, oriented east-and-west and accompanied 
by a number of shells, some Mousterian flints, and the remains of 
a woolly rhinoceros, horse, reindeer, and bison . 64 

The mystery of death, then, had been met and faced, both for 
the beasts killed in the hunt and for man. And the answer found 
was one that has been giving comfort to those who wish comfort 
ever since, namely: "Nothing dies; death and birth are but a 
threshold crossing, back and forth, as it were, through a veil." 

The same idea spontaneously occurs to children when they reach 

* See Herbert Wendt's amusing discussion of this ciicumstance in his 
lively review of man's quest for the origins of his kind In Search of Adam 
(Boston: Houghton Miffli n Company, 1956), pp. 501 ff. 



the age of about five. "Do people turn back into babies when they 
get very old?" asked a little Swiss boy of that age. 

And another, when his unde's death was announced to him: 
"Will he grow up again?" 

"When you die," asked an infant of four, "do you grow up 

"And then I'll die," said another, "and you too. Mamma, and 
then we'll come back again." 65 

We do not know into what mythological structure this ele- 
mentary idea was incorporated in the remote Mousterian- 
Neanderthal period of the Dordogne; but the burial at La Chapelle- 
aux- Saints, with its orientation to the rising and setting sun, 
surely shows that a solar symbolism of some kind had already 
been developed, while the sacrificed animals suggest that something 
like a difficult journey was to be faced; or perhaps, like the gifts 
to the departing Ainu bear, they were, rather, souvenirs to be taken 
along as honorable gifts. 

For among the Ainus, we are told, when a funeral ceremony is 
performed, the master of the family becomes the celebrant. "You 
are a god now," he says to the corpse. "And without hankering 
after this world, you are to go now to the world of the gods, where 
your ancestors abide. They will thank you for the presents that 
you bring. And now go on quickly! Do not pause to look back." 
The celebrant puts a pair of leggings on the voyager's legs, a pair 
of mittens on his hands. "Take care," he tells him, "not to lose your 
way. The old Goddess of the Fire will guide you aright. I have 
already asked her to do so. Rely on her, and go your way with 
care. Farewell!" 

A rich dinner is prepared for both the spirit of the departed and 
the people at the wake; and when they are about to carry away 
the coffin, the celebrant again has a word for their departing 
friend. "We have made a fine staff to help you on your way. Take 
hold of it firmly at the top, and walk securely, minding your feet, 
lifting and lowering them as you raise and lower the staff. You 
have plenty of food and drink as souvenirs. Look neither to right, 
now, nor to left, but go on quickly and delight your ancestors with 
your presents. Do not keep remembering your brothers, sisters, and 



other relatives in this world. Go your way and do not yearn to see 
those that are here. They are safe and sound, under the care of 
the old Goddess of Fire. If you go on yearning for them, the folks 
there will laugh. This you must understand. You must not behave 
in such a foolish manner." 

The coffin is not carried out through the door, but a part of the 
side of the house is taken away and repaired before the mourners 
return. The ghost, then, will not know how to get back in. Or if 
the one who has died is the mistress of the house, the whole dwell- 
ing is burned. Into the grave go jewels, earrings, kitchen knives, 
pots, pans, and ladles, weaving looms and other such, if the 
departed was a woman; swords, bows, and quivers, if a man. And 
when the burial, or "throwing away," as it is called (osura), has 
been completed, the mourners leave the grave walking backward, 
lest, turning, they should be possessed by the ghost of the de- 
ceased; and they are holding weapons in their hands— the woman 
sticks, the men their swords— which they wave back and forth for 
their defense. 66 

One may question the propriety of interpreting by way of the 
Ainus of contemporary J apan a series of prehistoric remains at the 
opposite bound of the Eurasian continent, dating from circa 
200,000 to 50,000 B.c. Both space and time would seem to argue 
against the likelihood of a common tradition. Furthermore, the 
race of Neanderthal has disappeared from the face of the earth, 
and no one has yet suggested that the Ainus are their descendants; 
nor the Gilyaks, Goldi, peoples of Kamchatka, Ostyaks, Vogul, 
Orotchi of the Amur river, Lapps, or Finns. All who have written 
on the subject express amazement; and yet the facts remain. As 
Herbert Kuhn states the problem in a highly suggestive monograph: 

The location of the sites in remote caves, where they would 
be most readily concealed, indicated their reference to a 
cult; and so it immediately occurred to their excavators that 
they were uncovering the evidences of a sacrificial offering, 
storage places of the cave- bear skulls used in a primitive 
service honoring a divinity of the hunt, to whom the offer- 
ings were rendered. 

Menghin took up the idea in a paper on the evidence of a 
sacrificial offering in the Lower Paleolithic," where he com- 



pared the evidence with that of the hunting peoples of East 
Asia, the Ainus and the Gilyaks, among whom the offering 
is traditional, in the same form, to this day. Bachler himself 
had already indicated parallels among the Caucasian Chevsur, 
and on the ethnological side the find became the starting 
point of an intensive study of skull offerings among the rein- 
deer peoples in the work of A. Gahs . 68 Gahs brings a great 
mass of comparative material to bear on the problem, estab- 
lishing connections with the studies of bear ceremonials by 
Hallowell 69 and Uno Holmberg . 70 

All of these works make use of a great fund of factual ma- 
terial from the contemporary hunting peoples of the northern 
hemisphere. And it becomes evident therewith that the usages 
and customs of the Interglacial Period have been retained up 
to the very present in these peripheral regions of the earth, 
where the same living conditions exist to this day, and where 
man to this day remains only a hunter and collector on the 
simplest level. The economic pattern has not greatly altered 
in these parts, nor the way of thinking; man has remained in- 
wardly the same, even though millenniums, indeed perhaps 
centuries of millenniums, lie between the hunters of those 
earlier days and now. The same offering is still made today. 
The bear skulls still are flayed and preserved in sacred places, 
offering places. They are covered and set round with slabs of 
stone, even today. Special ceremonies still are celebrated at the 
offering places. Even today two vertebrae of the neck are al- 
lowed to remain attached to the skull, just as then. And even 
today we often find that the large molar of the bear has been 
ground down, precisely as Zotz found the case to be in the 
course of an excavation of a series of caves in the glacial moun- 
tain heights of Silesia . 71 

Such details among the contemporary Asiatic hunters as the 
grinding down of the teeth of the bear and leaving of two 
vertebrae attached to the skull, just as in the European Inter- 
glacial period, proves that the continuity has actually re- 
mained unbroken for tens of thousands of years . 72 

Leo Frobenius, also recognizing the continuity, adds the fol- 
lowing observation : 

Count Begouen and N. Casteret discovered a cave near 
Montespan, Haute- Garonne, where, in a great chamber at 
the end of a passage, there was the form of a beast made 
of clay. It was roughly fashioned, without concern for details. 



but was in a crouching position with outstretched front paws, 
and was furthermore distinguished by the fact that it lacked 
a head. The whole thing was clumsy and made about as chil- 
dren make their snowmen. It showed none of the elegance of, 
for example, the two bisons in the cave Tuc d'Audoubert, 
which likewise are fashioned of clay. And yet not even the 
coarseness of the work could explain the lack of a head. It 
could not have fallen off; for the neck showed a smooth, 
slightly sloping, sliced- off surface that had the same patine 
of age as the rest of the form. Furthermore, a hole went in 
through the center of this surface, like a channel going into 
the neck, curved in such a way as to suggest that a stick bear- 
ing some weight at the further end might have been stuck 
in. And to this there was added the further fact that the whole 
form in its general outline, and in particular in the formation 
of the limbs, the high, strong, rounded withers, suggested the 
representation of a bear, while between the forepaws there 
was found lying— a bear's skull. 

The discoverers of this extraordinarily important find indi- 
cated in their first report (1923) 73 that here we had evidence 
of a bear cult in the Upper Paleolithic [i.e., the period of the 
Magdalenian paintings]; that under certain conditions the 
actual head of a slain bear must have been affixed to the 
torso; that the skull discovered between the forepaws was 
obviously the evidence of such a custom; and finally, that the 
coarse, mushy form of the whole thing pointed to one specific 
conclusion, namely that the piece had served as supporting 
form for a freshly flayed bear pelt with the head still at- 
tached. 74 

Moreover, in the Volta river area of the Gold Coast, West 
Africa, Frobenius's collaborator. Dr. Hugershof, discovered a 
precisely comparable form in use among the Bamana of Tula, 
which, however, was used for the support not of a bear skin but 
of a leopard skin. 75 And Frobenius himself, in the French Sudan, 
among the Kulluballi of Bafulabe, learned that "when a lion or 
leopard has killed and eaten a man, a jungle offering is prepared 
and the beast is killed. A place called 'Kulikorra Nyama 1 is ar- 
ranged in the forest, consisting of a circular enclosure of thorns, 
in the center of which the day form of a beast of prey is set up, 
without a head. The pelt is then removed from the killed lion or 
leopard, together with the head, still containing its skull; the skin 



is arranged on the clay form; and then all the warriors surround 
the enclosure of thorns and the one who killed the beast goes 
dancing about the figure within, while the remains of the beast are 
buried." ™ 

In western Morocco, when such a panther is killed, the hunter 
must immediately creep up on the dead beast from behind, with 
closed eyes, and try to blindfold the dead panther as quickly as 
possible, so that it may no longer see— to avert the danger of the 
evil eye. 77 And here, possibly, we have our due to the long bones 
pushed through the eye- holes of the cave- bear skulls in the sacred 
bin of the Drachenloch cave. 

IV. The Mythologies of the Two Worlds 

In short, then, a prodigious continuum has been identified, 
deriving in time at least from the period of the Riss-Wurm inter- 
glacial, about 200,000 B.C. It is represented in its earliest known 
forms in the high- mountain Neanderthal caves of Germany and 
Switzerland, but then also, millenniums later, in the caves of Homo 
sapiens of southern France. Its range in space extends, on the one 
hand, northeastward throughout the drcumpolar sphere of the 
primitive arctic hunters and collectors, where its ritual of the 
Master Bear is continued to the present day, and, on the other 
hand, southward into Africa, where the great felines— lion, 
leopard, panther, etc.— are in the role that is played by the bear in 
the north. In the survey of the main outlines of the archaeology of 
our subject, in Part Four, we must ask whether, actually, the 
African forms of the cult may not go back even further in time 
than the bear cult of Neanderthal, so that the shift of role would 
have been rather from lion to bear than from bear to lion— ac- 
cording to the prindple of land-nama, described earlier* For the 
present, however, our concern can be only: ( 1) to identify in the 
broadest terms the cultural zone of the cult of the animal master; 
(2) to see it in contrast to the younger mythological zone of the 
maiden sacrifice; and (3) to distinguish both primitive (or rela- 
tively primitive) contexts, as far as possible, from the much more 
securely documented prehistoric assemblages of the basal and 

* Supra, pp. 199-200. 


high neolithic, from which emerged the great civilizations of the 
hieratic city state. 

la. With an identified center in central Europe dating from the 
third interglacial period and a range extending, on the one hand, 
eastward to Labrador and, on the other, southward to Rhodesia 
(see map, p. 340), an abundantly documented mythology of the 
hunt has flourished, of such consistent character that we may well 
speak— indeed have to speak— of an area of diffusion. It is im- 
possible to name with certainty the basic traits of this mythology in 
its earliest phase. In such contemporary manifestations as the 
Ainu bear sacrifice and burial rite, one has to recognize, besides 
the earliest paleo- Siberian strain of tradition, the probability of 
very much later neolithic, Sino- Mongolian, Japanese, and even 
recent Russian influences. Nevertheless, certain patterns of thought 
and ritual appear in these traditions that can be readily matched 
in other parts of the great continuum, and these— if we do not 
try to press them too far — can be taken to represent in the main a 
general stance of the mind in this domain, which has fundamentally 
colored the web of whatever culture has come into form within 
its sphere of force. 

The main idea would seem to be that there is no such thing as 
death, but simply, as we have said, a passing back and forth of 
an immortal individual through a veil. The idea was well expressed 
in the words of the Caribou Eskimo shaman Igjugarjuk: "Life 
is endless. Only we do not know in what form we shall reappear 
after death." This idea is apparent also in the Ainu prayers both 
at the bear sacrifice and at the funeral rite. To the bear: "Precious 
little divinity , . . please come to us again and we shall again 
do you the honor of a sacrifice"; and to the man: "Take hold of 
[your staff] firmly at the top, and walk securely, minding your 
feet." The grave gear and sacrificed animals found in the graves 
in the Dordogne, at La Ferrassie, Le Moustier, and La Chapelle- 
aux- Saints, surely indicate something of the kind for the period 
of Neanderthal. And though we do not know whether burials of 
such a type were usual or unusual at that time, the fact remains 
that in these cases, at least, a life beyond death was envisioned. 
Was the handsome hand ax in the grave at Le Moustier a souvenir 



to be presented to the gods or ancestors in the other world? We 
do not know. And would the dead return at will, or remain with 
the ancestors? This we do not know either. But that there was 
another world, there can be no doubt. 

Several other themes also emerge from the evidence reviewed. 
The orientation east- and- west of the skeleton at La Chapelle-aux- 
Saints points to a solar reference; as does likewise the position of 
the handsomely buried rickety four- year- old in the much later 
grave at Mal'ta. The crouch position of the two adult skeletons at 
La Ferrassie, as well as of the child at Mal'ta, suggest the fetal 
posture for rebirth; though, on the other hand, they may represent 
an attempt so to bind the ghost that it should not return to terrify 
those left behind. For the burial rites of the Ainus, as well as 
those of the more primitive Aranda of Central Australia,* il- 
lustrate vividly a primitive fear of the dead, which, as we have 
already said, is in radical contrast to the attitude expressed in the 
rites of the primitive planters of the Sudan, t The North African 
hunter's ritual of defense against the killed panther's evil eye, and 
the curious thrusting of the bones through the eyes of the pale- 
olithic bear, suggest, by analogy, that in that remote period, too, 
fear was felt of the revengeful magic of the slain beast. And finally, 
we note that as the animals of the hunt changed, so too did the 
focal figure of the rites. The earliest animal master, apparently, 
was the cave bear, whose counterpart in Africa was the lion, 
leopard, or panther; whereas in what was perhaps a later context 
we find the mammoth; and then the bison. 

It has been suggested that the daily task and serious concern of 
dealing death, spilling blood, in order to live, created a situation 
of anxiety that had to be resolved, on the one hand by a system 
of defenses against revenge, and on the other by a diminishment of 
the importance of death. Immediately available, furthermore, was 
that primary, spontaneous notion of the child that death is not an 
end, nor birth a beginning. 

"Mamma, where did you find me?" 

"Mamma, where did I come from?" 78 

* Supra, pp. 125- 126. 

t Supra, pp. 126-128. 



These may not be "inherited ideas," precisely, but they are 
certainly general, spontaneous ideas, and the raw materials of 
myth. As we have seen, furthermore, they have been organized in 
a distinctive system, which has served primitive hunting societies 
for a period of some two hundred thousand years, both to alleviate 
the fear of blood revenge and to carry the mind across the ultimate 
threshold. And perhaps the best summation of the ultimate import 
of these myths and rites for the courageous men and women 
whose very difficult lives they served is expressed in the sentiment, 
reported by Dr. Rasmussen, of our little old friend Najagneq of 
north Alaska: Silam or Silam inua, "the inhabitant or soul (inua) 
of the universe," is never seen; its voice alone is heard. "All we 
know is that it has a gentle voice like a woman, a voice 'so fine 
and gentle that even children cannot become afraid. 1 What it says 
is: sila ersinarsinivdluge, 'be not afraid of the universe.' " 79 

lb. Within the field of the hunting mythologies, however, a 
second force appears in the phenomenology of shamanism. This 
cannot be tritely dismissed as "mere neurosis, self-hypnosis, or 
schizophrenia," because, even if this were true, it does not explain 
the universality of the imagery of "neurosis, schizophrenia, and 
self-hypnosis." The phenomenology of shamanism is locally condi- 
tioned only in a secondary sense— as I believe we have well enough 
seen. And since it has been precisely the shamans that have taken 
the lead in the formation of mythology and rites throughout the 
primitive world, the primary problem of our subject would seem to 
be not historical or ethnological, but psychological, even biological; 
that is to say, precedent to the phenomenology of the culture 
styles. This opens again the question of the relationship of ethnic 
to elementary ideas, which, as we have seen, has not been re- 
solved and remains the chief bone of contention of this entire 
subject. We return to it in the concluding chapter. 

2. In contrast to the childlike spirit of the mythology of the 
paleolithic hunt, a new depth of realization is achieved in the hor- 
rendous myths and rites of the planting cultures. The cultural 
continuum in which these are at home would appear to extend in 
a broad equatorial band from the Sudan, eastward through East 
Africa and Arabia, India, Indo- China, and Oceania, to Brazil. 



Death, here, is not simply the blithe passage of an immortal 
individual once again through a door through which he has already 
gone many times and back through which he will again return. A 
fundamental complementarity is vividly recognized between not 
simply birth and death, but sex and murder. A mythological age is 
supposed to have anteceded the precipitation of this pair-of- 
opposites, when there was neither birth nor death but a dreamlike 
state of essentially timeless being. And the precipitating mytho- 
logical event by which this age was terminated is renewed in the 
festivals, in rites such as we have reviewed and studied in Part Two. 

The contrast with the hunting mythology could not be greater. 
Yet one may ask whether the later mythology does not represent 
simply a deepening, an enrichment, and a systematization of ideas 
already inherent in the earlier. Is this an "opposite" mythology, 
or simply a "more mature"? Are the underlying ideas so dif- 
ferent that we cannot speak of a common psychological sub- 

The answer, I think, is obvious: namely, that the same ideas 
have been given a fresh turn and organization, which amounts, 
indeed, to a new, and certainly magnificent, though somewhat 
horrifying, crisis of spiritual growth. We should consider seriously, 
I think, the suggestion of Father Schmidt, already described,* that 
in the hunting world the masculine psyche prevails and in the 
planting world the feminine. In the first the feminine principle is 
comparatively mute, and with the masculine virtues a certain 
boyish innocence prevails— except in the area of black magic, 
where the witch and a kind of cloacal mania (which again is 
rather boyish) come into their own. In the second, on the other 
hand, the whole mystery of the woman's range of life experience 
comes into play— and is rendered, tragically yet joyfully, in the 
mystery of the maiden. 

"How can a man know what a woman's life is?" said an Abys- 
sinian woman quoted by Frobenius. 80 

A woman's fife is quite different from a man's. God has or- 
dered it so. A man is the same from the time of his circum- 
cision to the time of his withering. He is the same before he 
'Supra, pp. 318-322. 



has sought out a woman for the first time, and afterwards. 
But the day when a woman enjoys her first love cuts her in 
two. She becomes another woman on that day. The man is 
the same after his first love as he was before. The woman is 
from the day of her first love another. That continues so all 
through life. The man spends a night by a woman and goes 
away. His life and body are always the same. The woman 
conceives. As a mother she is another person than the woman 
without child. She carries the print of the night nine months 
long in her body. Something grows. Something grows into 
her life that never again departs from it. She is a mother. 
She is and remains a mother even though her child die, 
though all her children die. For at one time she carried the 
child under her heart. And it does not go out of her heart 
ever again. Not even when it is dead. And this the man does 
not know; he knows nothing. He does not know the difference 
before love and after love, before motherhood and after 
motherhood. He can know nothing. Only a woman can know 
that and speak of that. That is why we won't be told what to 
do by our husbands. A woman can only do one thing. She 
can respect herself. She can keep herself decent. She must al- 
ways be as her nature is. She must always be maiden and al- 
ways be mother. Before every love she is a maiden, after 
every love she is a mother. In this you can see whether she 
is a good woman or not. 

It is surely in the interplay and mutual spiritual fertilization of 
the sexes, no less than in the lessons learned of the animal, plant, 
and celestial kingdoms of the gods or in the profundities of the 
shamanistic trance experience, that the motivations of the meta- 
morphoses of myth are to be sought. In Part Four, diagraming 
sketchily the main blocks of the prehistoric periods of myth, from 
the first we know of man's appearance on earth to the dawn of the 
ages of writing when the literary record of mythology begins, we 
must try to bear in mind the force of this dialogue. For it is one 
of the curiosities and difficulties of our subject that its materials 
come to us for the most part through the agency of the male. The 
masters of the rites, the sages and prophets, and lastly our 
contemporary scholars of the subject, have usually been men; 
whereas, obviously, there has always been a feminine side to the 



picture also. The symbols have been experienced and read from the 
two poles; but also shaped from the force of the two poles in their 
antagonistic cooperation. So that even where the woman may 
seem to have disappeared from the scene— as, for example, in the 
patriarchal Aranda and Hebrew images of the first days of crea- 
tion* — we must realize that she is there, even so, and watch for the 
ripple of her presence behind the curtain. 

3. The dawn of history, as we know it, has now been securely 
placed in the Near East in the early hieratic city states. And the 
powerful diffusion of the great syndrome of the higher civilizations 
from those early centers to the bounds of the earth has now been 
traced clearly enough to let us know that most of what used to 
be regarded as evidence of, in Frazer's words, "the effect of 
similar causes acting on the similar constitution of the human mind 
in different countries and under different skies," is actually 
evidence, rather, of diffusion. Many of the culture forms, further- 
more, that formerly were thought to be primitive are actually— as 
we now know— regressed: regressed neolithic, regressed Bronze, 
or even regressed Iron Age configurations. 

For example, even the pygmoid Negritos of the Andaman 
Islands, who are certainly among the most primitive peoples now 
living on earth, cannot be studied simply as primitives; for there 
is a good deal of evidence, not only in their kitchen middens, which 
have been piling up for thousands of years, but also in their myths 
and folkways, of an important cultural influence that arrived from 
the southeast Asian mainland perhaps three or four thousand years 
ago, and which brought to them not only pottery and the pig but 
also a new method of cooking and the art of smoking pipes. 81 
They have, besides, an extremely beautiful type of bow, which is 
not by any means a primitive weapon but one that appears only 
as late as the mesolithic— that is to say, in the critical culture 
period of the dawn of the arts of food cultivation. 

The most delicate and difficult, as well as crucial, guestion within 
the ranges of the ethnological and archaeological phases of our 
study, indeed, is this of the relative force of the paleolithic and 

»Cf. supra, pp. 106-111. 


neolithic influences both in the vaguely defined transitional period 
known variously as mesolithic, proto-neolithic, epi-paleolithic, 
and, in America, New World Formative, and throughout the field 
of ethnological research. It is to this question that we turn our 
regard particularly in Part Four. 

Part Four 


Chapter 9 


I. The Stage of Plesianthropus 
(< 600,000 B.C. >) 

"The quest for Adam," as Her- 
bert Wendt has termed the long search of sdenoe for the home- 
land of the human race, 1 has led now to Africa— and recently with 
spectacular results. Three types of theory hold the field with re- 
gard to the way in which the family tree of our race should be 
construed. Most of the authorities believe that mankind emerged 
from the stage of the higher primates along one line of evolution. 
Those holding this view are known as "monophyletists": advo- 
cates of one (mono) line of descent (phyletikos: "tribe"). A sec- 
ond group, however, the "polyphyletists"— advocates of many 
(poly) lines of descent (phyletikoi)— believe that our race is con- 
stituted of a number of independently developed strains which, in 
the course of the millenniums, became fused. And finally a third 
group, of recent origin (dating from c. 19 2 5), 2 which as far as 1 
know has not yet received its Greek appellation, stands for the 
probability of what they tarn a "zone of hominization," i.e., a 
limited yet sufficiently broad area of the earth's surface, relatively 
uniform in character, where a large population of closely related 
individuals (some Tertiary spedes of higher primate) became af- 
fected simultaneously by a series of genetic mutations conducing 
to the appearance of a considerable variety of manlike forms. 3 
Both the evidence of modem genetics and the recent discoveries 




in South and East Africa of an astonishing variety of early manlike 
creatures, ranging in stature from pygmies (Plesianthropus) to 
giants (Paranthropus robustus), tend to support this latest view. 
And so the primates that we have now to accept as our first cousins 
are the higher apes of Africa, the gorilla and chimpanzee, not the 
orangutan and gibbon of Southeast Asia, who are more remote 
from the human line, or zone, of hominization. 4 

There are two amusing reports of the behavior of chimpanzees 
that seem to me worth noting at this point. They appear in Dr. 
Wolfgang Kohler's volume on The Mentality of Apes. 

Kohler found that his chimpanzees would conceive inexplicable 
attachments for objects of no use to them whatsoever and carry 
these for days in a kind of natural pocket between the lower ab- 
domen and upper thigh. An adult female named Tschengo became 
attached in this way to a round stone that had been polished by 
the sea. "On no pretext could you get the stone away," says Kohler, 
"and in the evening the animal took it with it to its room and its 
nest." 5 

Kohler's second observation is of a social nature. Tschengo and 
another chimpanzee named Grande invented a game of spinning 
round and round like dervishes, which was then taken up by all 
the rest. "Any game of two together," Dr. Kohler writes, 

was apt to turn into this "spinning-top" play, which appeared 
to express a dimax of friendly and amicable joie de vivre. The 
resemblance to a human dance became truly striking when 
the rotations were rapid, or when Tschengo, for instance, 
stretched her arms out horizontally as she spun round. 
Tschengo and Chica— whose favorite fashion during 1916 
was this "spinning"— sometimes combined a forward move- 
ment with the rotations, and so they revolved slowly round 
their own axes and along the playground. 

The whole group of chimpanzees sometimes combined in 
more daborate motion- patterns. For instance, two would 
wrestle and tumble near a post; soon their movements would 
become more regular and tend to describe a drde round the 
post as a center. One after another, the rest of the group ap- 
proach, join the two, and finally march in an orderly fashion 
round and round the post. The character of thdr movements 
changes; they no longer walk, they trot, and as a rule with 


special emphasis on one foot, while the other steps lightly, 
thus a rough approximate rhythm develops, and they tend to 
"keep time" with one another. . . . 

"It seems to me extraordinary," Kohler concludes, "that there 
should arise quite spontaneously, among chimpanzees, anything 
that so strongly suggests the dancing of some primitive tribes." 6 

These two notations will suffice to suggest a spiritual plane for 
the history of our subject lower than which we need not go in 
imagining the ritual activities of the first societies. The psychologi- 
cal crisis that we have termed "seizure" * is already present, and 
the joy in group motion patterns that underlies both public ritual 
and the art of the dance is also in evidence. We note, furthermore, 
the surprising detail of the central pole, which in the higher 
mythologies becomes interpreted as the world-uniting and sup- 
porting Cosmic Tree, World Mountain, axis mundi, or sacred 
sanctuary, to which both the social order and the meditations of 
the individual are to be directed. And finally, we have that won- 
derful sense of play, without which no mythological or ritual game 
of "make believe" whatsoever could ever have come into being. 
One can see already that in play fascinating new energy- evoking 
stimulae are discovered, which unite groups in the way not of 
economics but of freely patterned action— that is to say, of art. 
The observation is worth noting because no actual objects of 
human art have been found earlier than the Aurignacian period, 
when the female figurines abruptly appear. 

The African finds that have most recently stirred the halls of 
science are roughly (very roughly) dated at the commencement 
of the Pleistocene or Ice Age, circa 600,000 B.C.; and at the Fifth 
International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sci- 
ences, held at the University of Pennsylvania in 1956, Dr. Ray- 
mond Dart of Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South 
Africa, showed a convincing series of slides in which the imple- 
ments of this pre-lithic (pre- Stone Age) culture were illustrated. 
These included the lower jaws of large antelopes, which had been 
cut in half to be used as saws and knives; gazelle horns with part 
of the skull attached, which showed distinct signs of wear and 
* Supra, p. 23. 



use, possibly as digging tools; and a great number of ape-man 
palates with the teeth worn down— human palates being used to 
this day as scrapers by some of the natives of the area. But the 
really sensational slides were those showing a number of baboon 
and ape-man skulls that had been fractured by the blow of a 
bludgeon of a certain specific type. All the fractures showed that 
they had been caused by an instrument having two nubs or 
processes at the hitting end; and it had required only a little 
thought on the part of Professor Dart and his collaborators for 
them to surmise that the probable cause of this double dent was 
the knob at the end of the leg bone of a gazelle. But apes do not 
use weapons; ergo, the culprit was a man— or at least some kind 
of proto-man. 

The animal remains found among the bones of these little fellows 
of about 600,000 B.C. have been chiefly antelopes, horses, gazelles, 
hyenas, and other beasts of the plains— swift runners, so that the 
art of the hunt must have been considerably developed. Professor 
Dart, furthermore, has found abundant evidence of a practice of 
removing the heads and tails of certain of the animals killed, and 
suggests that the tails may have been used for signaling in the 
chase. Perhaps so! But what of the removal of the heads? Were 
the animals flayed, perhaps, and their whole skins, with heads 
and tails attached, then used in some magical rite to avert the 
danger of blood revenge? Do we hear an echo at the bottom of 
the well? 

II. The Stage of Pithecanthropus 

(< 400,000 B.c. >) 

The first evidence of the use of fire was found about as far from 
South Africa as one could wish, in the now famous Choukoutien 
Cave, some thirty-seven miles from Peiping. Here, through a series 
of excavations extending from 1921 to 1939, there was unearthed 
an impressive assortment of stone tools, cracked skulls, split bones, 
and fireplaces in what; had been the haunt of a sort of ape-man 
with a brain capacity of about 900 cubic centimeters; that is to 
say, midway between the men of today (1400—1500 cc. average) 
and the brainiest ape (600 cc) . The way some of the skulls were 


opened showed that someone had been knocking holes in them 
and lapping out the brains. In the cave were the remains, further- 
more, of thousands of animals that had also been eaten by the in- 
habitant, or inhabitants; and the tools of stone were crude chop- 
pers and large flakes, such as must have been used for knives. 

The unwholesome cannibal of this chilly, fire- heated den. Sinan- 
thropus Pekinensis, Peking Man (or, as we may term him, Prome- 
theus the Great), was a contemporary of the celebrated Pithecan- 
thropus erectus of J ava— "the ape-man (pithecanthropus) who 
walks erect (erectus)," otherwise known as Java Man and Trinil 
Man— who, when his remains were found in 1891, was hailed by 
Haeckel and the other nineteenth- century prophets of evolution 
as the very figure of Darwin's "Missing Link. " But the remarkable 
thing about the Chinese find was the evidence of fire in the cave. 
For although a number of proto-human remains of this general 
period have been found elsewhere in the world, Choukoutien is 
unique in its evidence of fire. 

We have to think of the period in the vast terms of geological 
reckoning as falling somewhere in the Middle Pleistocene— about 
500,000-200,000 B.c., in the great ranges of the second glacial 
period (Mindel) and second interglacial (Mindel-Riss). The chief 
remains now assigned to this stage in the development of man- 
kind are those, firstly, of Pithecanthropus and his like in Java, 
which now include, in addition to the original find, a massive, 
brutal skull discovered by Ralph von Koenigswald in the 1930s, 
which is named Pithecanthropus robustus, as well as a huge lower 
jaw, also found in J ava by the same researcher, which is now called 
Meganthropus palaeojavanicus. Likewise to be classed in this 
period are the remains of a skull from East Africa that has been 
dubbed Africanthropus. And then, of course, we have the classic 
relics of the early paleolithic in Europe, with which every school- 
boy is now familiar; most notably Heidelberg Man (Homo heidel- 
bergensis), whose mighty jaw was discovered in 1907 in a deposit 
that is now assigned to the first interglacial period (Giinz- Mindel) 
— an age in which the bear, lion, wildcat, wolf, and bison shared 
with man the fields and forests, along with the wild boar, the Mos- 
bach horse, the broad- faced moose, Etruscan rhinoceros, and 



straight-toothed ancient elephant. Perhaps also from this period 
are the interesting Swanscombe skull from the Thames, which was 
found in 1935 and is probably to be dated in the second inter- 
glacial; the Fontechevade skull, found in France in 1947, which 
appears to belong to the early part of the third interglacial (Riss- 
Wiirm); and the skull of a young woman found in a cave at Stein- 
heim, Germany, in 1933, which likewise appears to be from the 
third interglacial. These latter three, however, have aroused con- 
siderable controversy, since they approach far more closely than 
the Oriental finds the figure of modem man. One side of the 
argument holds that skulls of this advanced type belong to later 
periods than those to which their position when found appeared 
to assign them. The other side contends that two separate strains 
of evolution are indicated: one developing in the less favorable 
Pleistocene climates of southeast and far eastern Asia, and the 
other in the milder spheres of North Africa and Europe. This argu- 
ment is still unresolved. 

What is perfectly clear, however, is that the race of man, by 
the middle of the second interglacial period (Mindel-Riss), had 
spread from Africa both northward, into Europe, and eastward 
(remaining south of the Elburz- Himalayan mountain line) into 
Southeast Asia, turning then northward up the far eastern coast. 
Father Wilhelm Schmidt has even suggested the possibility of a 
continuation of this migration into America. For, as he points out, 
during the glacial ages the level of the sea was so much lower 
than now that a land bridge as wide as the nation of France 
stretched from Siberia to Alaska, across which grazing animals 
passed— herds of horses, cattle, elephants, and camels. But if ani- 
mals, then why not their hunters? The land bridge, holding back 
the icy waters of the Arctic, permitted the warmer currents of the 
south to flow unhindered up the coast, so that the climate both of 
Northeast Asia and of Northwest America must have been con- 
siderably warmer than today. And Father Schmidt cites to this 
effect the geologist Dr. W. Krickeberg: "An abundant forest and 
steppe flora flourished then, where today barren grounds give to 
the landscape the basic character of a hopeless desert; and this 
we know since the immigrating Asiatic animal world of the second 


half of the Ice Age — in whose train, according to this hypothesis, 
men also came— consisted only to a minor degree of arctic types. 
The greatest number were the beasts of the northern forests and 
steppes; among others, the mammoth, whose contemporary, man, 
must likewise have entered the North American sphere." 7 

No evidence yet found of paleolithic man in America can be 
dated, even recklessly, earlier than the third interglacial period 
(Riss-Wurm); but new discoveries during the past few years have 
been pressing the date line steadily back. In 1925 Dr. Ales 
Hrdlicka was suggesting something like 1000 B.c. as a likely date 
for man's arrival in the New World. Now we have a date of 6688 
± 450 B.C. for man in Tierra del Fuego. In 1926 a paleolithic 
type of spear point (the Folsom Point) was discovered in New 
Mexico in association with an extinct species of bison. The favored 
date for this point is c. 10,000 B.C. But two earlier types of point 
(Sandia and Clovis Flutes) have been found associated with mam- 
moth remains, calling for a date of at least c. 15,000 B.C. The con- 
servative estimates now run up to 35,000 B.C., 8 and some are even 
prophesying "that the next few years will show the presence of man 
on this continent long before 'the end of the Pleistocene.' " 9 

All of which, of course, is still a long way indeed from the 
400,000 B.C. of Peking; and I am not trying to suggest that the 
gap will ever be bridged. But what is of interest to our study is 
the opening, in Father Schmidt's suggestion, of a possible channel 
of paleolithic influence from Southeast Asia and the Austro- 
Melanesian zone, up the coast into the New World. A number 
of careful scholars of the subject have pointed to signs of an ex- 
tremely early continuity uniting, not only culturally but also 
racially, certain peoples of the Southeast Asian area and the most 
primitive groups in America. The Argentinian anthropologist 
J ose Imbelloni, for example, recognizes a Tasmanoid (Tasmanian- 
like) strain in the Yahgans and Alacaloof of Tierra del Fuego; 
a Melanesian strain among the Indians of the Matto of the Amazon 
forest; and a semi-Australoid among the nomadic huntsmen of 
both North and South America. 10 Harold S. Gladwin writes of 
Australoid skulls discovered all the way from Lower California 
to the Texas Gulf coast, as well as in Ecuador and Brazil. 11 And 



Paul Rivet even suggests the possibility of an Australoid migration 
by way of the ice of Antarctica to Tierra del Fuego . 12 The point 
to be noticed here is that if any such early paleolithic Southeast 
Asia-to-Tierra del Fuego continuity should ever be demonstrated, 
then the last possibility of anything like a pure case for parallel 
development, even on the simplest level of culture, will have been 

On the face of the evidence, it would surely seem that our pon- 
derous Prometheus with the heavy brows was the world's perfect 
model of an economic materialist (which is about what one should 
have expected, considering the size of the brain); for there is not 
the sign or hint of an artwork to be found in the whole three hun- 
dred thousand years of his existence. He was Homo faber, man 
the tool- maker, par excellence. And the manner in which his skill 
increased in the not too easy task of chipping flints, from the days 
of his first crude pebble tools to those of his finest fist axes, re- 
veals that, for all his rude and even ghoulish habits, he was no 
unmitigated lout. The high center of human culture was still Africa. 
Here an incredible abundance of paleolithic tools have been found. 
Indeed, some excavations (for example, those of L. S. B. Leakey 
at Olduvai Gorge in the north of Tanganyika) have revealed in 
perfect seguence every stage of the evolution of the hand ax from 
the pebble tools of man's first beginnings to the finely finished, 
really elegant axes of the period of Neanderthal . 13 And if the view 
into the depth of the well of time that we obtained in the South of 
France was great, this of Olduvai is simply beyond speech. But 
what is even more amazing than the profundity of the prehistoric 
past here illustrated is the broad diffusion over the face of the 
earth of exactly the same ax forms as those of paleolithic East 
Africa. As Dr. Carleton S. Coon has remarked: "During the 
guarter of a million years when man made these tools, the styles 
changed very little, but what changes were made are to be seen 
everywhere. . . . This means that human beings who lived half 
a million years ago were able to teach their young skills that they 
had learned from their fathers in most minute detail, as living 
Australians and Bushmen do. Such teaching reguires both speech 
and a firm discipline, and the uniformity of hand- ax styles over 


wide areas means that members of neighboring groups must have 
met together at stated intervals to perform together acts that re- 
quired the use of these objects. In short, human society was al- 
ready a reality when the hand- ax choppers of the world had begun 
to turn out a uniform product. " 14 

All of which speaks volumes for the force and reach of diffusion 
in the primitive world. 

Moreover, what is perhaps more remarkable still is that some 
of the most beautiful of the symmetrically chipped hand axes of 
this period are as much as two feet long, a size too cumbersome 
for practical use; the only possible conclusion being that they 
must have served some ceremonial function. Professor Coon has 
suggested that such axes were not practical tools but sacred ob- 
jects, comparable to the ceremonial tools and weapons of later 
days, "used only seasonally, when wild food was abundant enough 
to support hundreds of persons at one place and one time. Then 
the old men," he supposes, "would cut the meat for the assembled 
multitude with some of these heavy and magnificent tools," after 
which, like the magically powerful tjurungas of the Australians, 
the sacred implements would be stored in some holy place. 15 

III. The Stage of Neanderthal Man 
(c. 200,000-75,000/ 25,000 B.C.) 

The pygmoid Negritos inhabiting the Andaman archipelago 
in the Bay of Bengal, some 250 miles south of the last headlands 
of Burma, had such a reputation for savagery that they were 
studiously avoided by the sea captains of the Arab, Chinese, and 
Indian fleets. Unfortunates shipwrecked on their coasts were 
killed, sliced up, and incinerated. The report was that they were 
eaten. And since the wealth of the islands was hardly worth ap- 
propriating anyhow— consisting of a species of pig, a civet cat, a 
few kinds of bat and rat, a tree shrew, and a prolific monitor lizard 
that could swim in the water, walk on land, and climb trees, and 
so supplied an excellent theriomorphic prototype of the mythologi- 
cal "master of the three worlds" but was of little use for anything 
else— the inhabitants survived into the twentieth century A.D. on 
the cultural level of about the two hundredth B.c. 



The eight or ten open- fronted thatch shelters of a local group 
of some forty or fifty men, women, and children are still placed 
around an elliptical cleanly swept dance area, with a sounding log 
at one end to be struck by the foot, where, at night, when the daily 
chores are done, the women sit on the ground and sing, clapping 
their thighs, while their little men dance round and round. 

"In the dance of the Southern tribes," writes Dr. Radcliffe- 
Brown, whose fine monograph on this society is a classic of mod- 
em anthropological research, "each dancer dances alternately on 
the right foot or on the left. When dancing on the right foot, the 
first movement is a slight hop with the right foot, then the left 
foot is raised and brought down with a backward scrape along the 
ground, then another hop on the right foot. These three movements, 
which occupy the time of two beats of the song, are repeated until 
the right leg is tired, and the dancer then changes the movement 
to a hop with the left foot, followed by a scrape with the right 
and another hop with the left." 16 If the reader will now test him- 
self, first with the dance step of Kohler's apes and then with that 
of Radcliffe- Brown's Andamanese, he will agree, I think, that we 
are not being overbold in suggesting that something about of this 
order can have served to express mankind's "amicable joie de 
vivre" through the millenniums of those first and hardest 400,000 

Among the Andamanese there is no organized government of 
any kind. The affairs of the community are regulated by the elder 
men and women. But in each local group there was usually found 
also one younger man who by his genial character, skill in the 
hunt, kindness, and generosity had won the regard of his friends 
to such a degree that they looked up to him for leadership and ad- 
vice. And finally, there were those men and women who exerted 
an influence because they were credited with supernatural powers; 
such powers, according to Radcliffe- Brown, having been acquired 
through converse with the spirits, either through death and recov- 
ery, through meeting spirits in the jungle, or through dreams. The 
myths, furthermore, were in the particular charge of these super- 
naturally endowed men and women. 

And so, once again, we find in this living museum of the An- 


daman archipelago a circumstance that must represent— at least 
approximately— the elementary level of the order of human life: 
the force of the wisdom of the elders; the tact, grace, and compe- 
tence of socially oriented individuals; and the interior depth- 
experiences of the "tender minded." Add the inevitable "child's 
concept of the world," represented in such a society by the con- 
siderable fraction of its population under seven years of age, and 
you will have an elementary diagram of the structuring force cen- 
ters from which the constellations of the mythological kaleidoscope 
have everywhere been constituted— showing shifts of emphasis, 
indeed, according to circumstance; showing, also, greatly differing 
ranges and powers of amplification; but always playing out of these 
four inevitable, ever-present centers of creative force. Furthermore, 
since there is no excessive emphasis among the Andamanese either 
on the male or on the female, the contributions from both poles 
flow freely into the common fund and there is little of the negative, 
compensatory, and malignant in their mythology and folklore, 
save where it has been derived from experiences of the malig- 
nancies of nature itself in cyclones, sudden death, disease, and 
other "acts of God." 

The chief personage in the mythology of these little people is 
the northwest monsoon, Biliku, who is sometimes pictured as a 
spider and whose character, in keeping with that of the monsoon 
itself, is tricky and temperamental, being both beneficent and 
dangerous. Biliku is usually said to be a female, and we cannot 
but recognize in this hardly surprising designation a probable pro- 
jection of the infantile "mother imprint" as well as a comment 
on das Ewig-Weiblich. For, according to what we know of the 
workings of the modem psyche, such a projection would be per- 
fectly natural— indeed, inevitable— and need anyone doubt that 
the same basic psychological laws apply to the Andamanese? The 
southwest monsoon, Tarai, which is milder than Biliku, is pictured 
as her husband, and their children are the sun, the moon, and the 
birds. The sun, furthermore, is the moon's wife, and their children 
are the stars; the moon can sometimes turn into a pig. 

The mythology has not been systematized, and so a number of 
versions can be accepted of one event. For example, Biliku, either 


in a male or in a female form, made the world and then made a 
man named Tomo, the first of the human race, who was black, 
like the present Andamanese, but much taller and bearded. Biliku 
taught Tomo how to live and what to eat. And then Tomo had a 
wife. Lady Crab. According to one view, Biliku created Lady 
Crab after teaching Tomo how to live. According to another, 
Tomo saw her swimming near his home and called to her; she 
came ashore and became his wife. According to still another ac- 
count, Lady Crab, already pregnant, came ashore and gave birth 
to several children who became progenitors of the present race. 
A different series gives us Lady Dove as Tomo's wife; another, the 
moon— who, it will be recalled, is also the husband of the sun. 
Tomo himself is sometimes the sun. But the reader may recall, too, 
that in the Andamanese myth already given of Kingfisher's theft of 
fire,* Biliku caused Kingfisher, the fire-bringer, to lose his wings, 
so that it was he who became the first man. 

Sir Monitor Lizard also is the first man; and his wife is Lady 
Civet Cat. In the days before his marriage, and when he had just 
completed his initiation ceremonies, he went into the jungle to 
hunt pig, climbed up a Dipterocarpus tree, and got caught up 
there in some way by his genitals. Lady Civet Cat, seeing him 
in that sorry plight, released him and the two then married 
and became the progenitors of the Andamanese. 17 

Now the dying and resurrected god of the archaic high civiliza- 
tions of the Near East, Tammuz- Adonis, for whom the women 
wept in the Temple of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 8:14) and whose 
Egyptian counterpart was Osiris, was actually out hunting a wild 
boar when he was gored in the loin and rendered impotent; he 
descended in death then to the lower world, and was resurrected 
only when the goddess, I shtar- Aphrodite, whose animal is not in- 
deed the dvet cat but the lion, descended to the underworld and 
released him. How are we to explain this correspondence? The 
answer is to be found in the kitchen middens. Lidio Cipriani in 
1952 excavated a series of huge Andamanese kitchen middens, 
which must have been accumulating for a period of some five or 
six thousand years. And he found: (1) to a depth of about six 

* Supia, p. 278. 


inches from the top, European imports, chips of broken bottles, 
rifle- bullets, pieces of iron, etc.; (2) going deeper for many feet, 
crab legs that had been used as smoking pipes, the bones of pigs, 
pottery shards, and well-preserved dam shells; (3) within about 
three feet from the bottom, no crab- leg pipes, no pig bones, no 
pottery, and damshells heavily caldnated, showing that they had 
been exposed directly to the fire. Conclusion: "The Andamanese," 
writes Cipriani, "on their arrival, did not know pottery. Previous 
to its introduction, food was roasted in the fire or in hot ashes; 
later, it was boiled in pots. . . . The first Andamanese pottery 
is of good make, with clay well worked and well burned in the 
fire. The more we approach the upper strata, the more it undergoes 
a degeneration. . . . Bones of Sus andamanensis [the Andaman- 
ese pig] begin to appear later than pottery. They become more 
frequent, the more we approach the top levels. The inevitable 
conclusion would seem to be that the undent Andamanese knew 
neither pottery nor the hunting of pigs. It is likely that both pot- 
tery and a domesticated Sus were introduced by one and the same 
people." 18 Thus, once again, diffusion even here, and regression: 
regressed neolithic, along with the great neolithic myth of Venus 
and Adonis, Ishtar and Tammuz, now transformed by the principle 
of land-nama * into Lady Civet Cat and Sir Monitor Lizard. 

The animals most prominent in the tales of the Andamanese 
have no social value whatsoever. They are the little neighbors in 
the forest, and during the mythological age, when Biliku lived on 
the earth, they were of the company of the ancestors. But they 
were separated from man by the discovery of fire— which is true 
enough, since man is protected from the animals at night by his 
fires, which they fear. Some of their markings, in fact, were caused 
by painful contact with the first fire. 

Pleasant litde animal tales of this kind are known to all the 
hunting and food- gathering peoples of the world, and are, in fact, 
spontaneously invented even by children. I should think it safe to 
assume, therefore, that the category is of immense antiquity. The 
plots, however, enacted by the various local stock- companies of 
familiar beasts and birds, greatly vary; and so, if we are to take 

* Cf. supra, pp. 199-200. 



seriously the warning in the case just cited of the rescue of Sir 
Monitor Lizard by Lady Civet Cat, we shall have to remember 
that though the genre of the animal tale is certainly of paleolithic 
age, the cultural influences represented in the plots may be derived 
from centers of civilization of a very much higher order than any- 
thing visible in the local scene would have led one to expect. 

Among the Andamanese a number of the animals used for 
food are represented as having originally been men. A canoe up- 
set and its occupants became turtles; Lady Civet Cat turned some 
of the ancestors into pigs; some of the pigs jumped into the sea 
and became dugongs. The animals killed and eaten, clearly, have 
a different psychological import for the islanders from those that 
are simply man's neighbors in the woods. One thinks of Roheim's 
observation, quoted earlier, that "whatever is killed becomes 
the father." The Andamanese rites of initiation are concerned 
largely with protecting the initiate against the powers of these food 
animals. The youngster, whether boy or girl, must abstain from 
eating the animal for a certain time, and then take his first meal 
under ceremonial protection. The girl's initiation begins with her 
first menstruation, when she must spend three days sitting in a 
hut, again under ceremonial protection. Other crises requiring pro- 
tection are the usual ones of birth, marriage, and death. On all 
such occasions the individuals involved are defended from the 
powers of the moment by various types of ceremonial ornamenta- 
tion— red paint, white clay, incised (scarified) designs, decorative 
plant fibers, shells, etc.— as well as by ceremonial dancing, cere- 
monial weeping, and the recitation of myths. 

And so here we are given our primary view of the force and 
function of myths and rites. At moments of psychological danger 
they magically conjure forth the life energies of the individual and 
his group to meet and surpass the dangers. These may be such 
as are met by all in the course of their lives at the various in- 
evitable thresholds, or they may be such as are met only occasion- 
ally or by very few. A man who has killed another has to be deco- 
rated and ceremonially protected. A man who has met ghosts in 
the forest, in dreams, or in death, requires the protection of myth. 
The chief sources o£ danger to an Andamanese, according to 


Professor Radcliffe- Brown, are spirits: the ghosts of the dead and 
the hidden powers animating nature. And the chief sources of 
protection to the individual against these dangers are the rites and 
folkways, the ceremonials, of the group. 18 "The function of the 
myths and legends of the Andamanese," he writes, "is exactly 
parallel to that of the ritual and ceremonial"; 20 they are "the 
means by which the individual is made to feel the moral force of 
the society acting upon him." 21 But the ultimate origin of all 
these folkways, ceremonials, myths, and rites, by which the moral 
force of the society is expressed? Here the authorities differ. I 
have saved my own ruminations on the problem for my final 

The picture of the Andamanese can be taken as a likely norm 
for the social situation of the early, semi-nomadic, food- gathering 
and small- game- hunting societies of the tropical and semi-tropical 
areas of the primary paleolithic diffusion. A new situation devel- 
oped, however, when the northern, bitterly cold regions north of 
the Elburz- Himalayan mountain line were entered, about 200,000 
B.c., by our sturdy friends of the Neanderthal race. Apparently 
the possession of fire and the idea of wearing animal skins to keep 
out the cold made it possible for the tribes of men to brave in 
number the rigors of the lands of the north, which offered to those 
who could enter them the advantage of abundant meat. Moreover, 
the brain power of the species had considerably increased; for, 
whereas the range in the period of Pithecanthropus had been from 
about 900 to about 1200 cc, that of Neanderthal was from 1250 
to about 1725— considerably greater at the upper range, that is 
to say, than the norm for man today, which, as we have said, is 
a mere 1400 to 1500 cc. The picture is no longer that of a lot of 
scattered families of moronic ape-men, but of an extraordinarily 
sturdy race of human beings, perhaps of a slightly higher mental 
order than ourselves, fighting it out, at the dawn of what may be 
considered to be our properly human history, in a landscape calling 
for every bit of wit and spunk at their disposal. 

We do not know what the hunting methods of these Neander- 
thalers can have been. There was a great disparity between the 
size of their weapons and the animals that were their prey. The 



bow and arrow had not yet been invented, but the boomerang, or 
throwing stick, apparently had. The chase was pursued with 
wooden, flint-pointed spears, throwing stones, and boomerangs, 
while the animals sought and slain were the mammoth, rhinoceros, 
wild horse, bison, wild cattle, reindeer and deer, the brown bear, 
and the cave bear. These beasts were pursued afoot and met face 
to face, at close quarters. It is not difficult to see why the courage 
and stamina of the male in these circumstances should have re- 
dounded to his considerable advantage. 

However, it is likely, too, that the power of woman's magic was 
recognized and accorded something of its due. We have seen how, 
in the Pygmy rite reported by Frobenius from Africa, the woman's 
lifted arms and cry to the sun were essential. And we know that 
among the circumpolar hunters to this day female shamans are 
numerous and highly regarded. For, as Ruth Underhill has pointed 
out, the mysteries of childbirth and menstruation are natural mani- 
festations of power. The rites of protective isolation, defending 
both the woman herself and the group to which she belongs, are 
rooted in a sense and idea of mysterious danger, whereas the boys' 
and men's rites are, rather, a social affair. The latter become ra- 
tionalized in systems of theology. But the natural mysteries of birth 
and menstruation are as directly convincing as death itself, and 
remain to this day what they must also have been in the beginning, 
primary sources of a religious awe. 22 

It would have been toward the close of the period of Neander- 
thal Man that the first migrations into America occurred, if the 
earliest dates now being suggested are correct; i.e., about 35,000 
B.c. Contemporaries of Neanderthal in the south were the so-called 
Solo Man of Java (Homo soloensis) and Rhodesian Man of South 
Africa (Homo rhodesiensis). The former— also known as Ngan- 
dong Man— has been tentatively suggested as representing a step 
intermediate in a family line between the earlier J ava Man, Pithe- 
canthropus erectus, and the modem natives of Australia. 23 But 
Rhodesian Man, (Homo rhodesiensis), on the other hand, can- 
not be linked genetically with any of the modem races of Negro 
Africa. These, like the Mongolian and Caucasian races, belong 
to a very much later stage of human evolution. 24 


We have already viewed the earliest unmistakable archaeological 
evidences of man's religious thought in the burials and bear sanc- 
tuaries of Homo neanderthalensis. We now add, to complete the 
picture, the observation that a number of the Neanderthal skulls 
found at Krapina and Ehringsdorf provide evidence also of his 
ritual cannibalism. They had been opened in a certain interesting 
way. Furthermore, every one of the unearthed skulls of Neander- 
thal's Javanese contemporary. Solo Man (Ngangdong Man), had 
also been opened. And finally, when skulls opened by the modem 
headhunters of Borneo for the purpose of lapping up the brains 
are compared with those of Solo and Neanderthal— the skulls hav- 
ing served, handily, as the bovsds for their own contents— they are 
found to have been opened in precisely the same way . 25 

Remarkable indeed— we might observe in passing— how far 
cultural patterns can survive beyond the periods of the races among 
whom they first appear! 

What rites were associated with the early headhunt we do not 
know; but that its spirit was comparable to the head-worship of 
the bear is likely— particularly in view of the fact that at the five- 
chambered grotto of Guattari, near San Felice Qrceo, on the 
coast of Italy, some eighty miles southeast of Rome, a Neanderthal 
skeleton was recently discovered that had been treated much in 
the way of a sacrificed bear. The head having been removed, a 
hole had been tapped in it for the removal of the brain; the re- 
mains of sacrificed animals were preserved in receptacles round 
about the grotto, and the skeleton itself was surrounded by a circle 
of stones. 

"O noble Divinity!" We can almost hear the prayer: "Precious 
Divinity, we adore thee. We are about to send you back to your 
lather and mother. When you come to them, please speak well 
of us and tell them how kind we have been. Please come to us 
again and we shall again do you the honor of a sacrifice." 

Of interest, furthermore, is the fact that on the summit of Monte 
Qrceo itself stand the ruins of a Roman temple supposed to have 
been dedicated to Circe, the sorceress who not only transformed 
Odysseus' men into swine but also introduced the great voyager 
himself to the cavernous entrance to the Land of the Dead. And 



the name of the promontory is itself a reference to this belief; for 
the folk memory has it that the vivid headland— high and beauti- 
ful, and nearly surrounded by the sea— was Circe's Isle. 

IV. The Stage of Cro-Magnon Man 
(c. 30,000-10,000 B.C.) 

The dating of the Aurignacian period varies dramatically ac- 
cording to whether the new Carbon- 14 estimates are accepted or 
rejected. The Abbe Breuil rejects them, declaring that they lead 
to "absurd results" and spans of time "notoriously insufficient." 
"We must still wait," he writes, "until we learn the limits of this 
technique, which seems less accurate when the material is more 
than fifteen or twenty thousand years old. " 26 Herbert Kuhn holds 
to a date for the period of c. 60,000 B.C.; 27 the Abbe Breuil, 
c. 40,000 B.C. Carleton S. Coon, on the other hand, accepting 
the new evidence, suggests c. 20,000 B.C. 28 A fair norm, con- 
sidering the fact that the Wurm Glaciation was at its peak about 
35,000 B.C., whereas the Aurignacian almost certainly followed 
this peak, would seem to be about 30,000 B.C. 

The typical figure of the time— the "signature" of the time, as 
Weinert terms him— is Cro-Magnon man, straight and tall, with a 
brain capacity of from 1590 cc. to something like 1880 (some- 
what greater than the modem average) ; 29 but a number of other 
racial strains also appear. Some of these (Chancelade Man, Combe 
Capelle Man) have been said to resemble the modem Eskimo; 
others (Grimaldi) suggest types of Italian. In the continent of 
Africa, where Cro-Magnon remains have been discovered down 
the whole east coast as far as the Cape, other forms suggest the 
Bushman. 30 

Four major divisions of the upper paleolithic, the culminating 
age of the Great Hunt, have been generally recognized: the Aurig- 
nacian, the Solutrean, the Magdalenian, and the Capsian. 


This is the high period of the paleolithic female figurines and 
of the earliest rock- engraving and painting styles. The mural art 
is linear and somewhat stiff, though by no means crude or incom- 


petent: one thinks of the tension of the archaic. The bone, ivory, 
and stone figurines, on the other hand, are boldly stylized— some, 
indeed, with consummate elegance and in a manner remarkably 

On the walls of a number of the caves daw marks of the cave 
bear have been found, and it has been observed that engravings 
and paintings usually appear near these spots. Thus we may say 
that the Master Bear was the first teacher of this animal art and 
where he touched was a proper place for animal magic. The 
stendled or colored imprints of human hands likewise appear on 
the walls, many with mutilated fingers. Thus finger-joint offering 
are indicated, like those of the North American buffalo plains. 
The hand imprints were perhaps placed on the walls in imitation 
of the imprints of the bear. 

The caves were the sites of animal magic and of the men's rites. 
They are the underworld itself, the realm of the herds of the under- 
world, from which the herds of the upper world proceed and back 
to which they return. They are of the realm and substance of night, 
of darkness, and of the night sky, their animals being comparable 
to the stars, which are slain by the sun yet reappear. The mytholo- 
gies of the animal masters and shamanism, the journey to the 
other world by way of a ceremonial burial, men's threshold rites, 
rebirth, and the masked dance inspired the liturgies of this bril- 
liant age. 

The female figurines indicate, furthermore, that a mythology 
of the goddess existed also, which can have been either comple- 
mentary or alien to the finger- chopping system of the men's danc- 
ing rites. The goddess suggests a context more dosely associated 
than that of the caves, however, with the tropical areas of the 
primary diffusion, where a planter's mythology— or at least the 
prelude to a planter's mythology— must by now have come into 

The classical area of the cavern art is southwestern France and 
northern Spain; that of the figurines extends, on the other hand, 
from the Pyrenees to Lake Baikal. Moreover, migrations to Amer- 
ica in pursuit of game— roughly, from the Baikal region— were 
almost certainly in progress before the close of this age. 




The Solutrean was a cold, dry period, when the protecting 
grottos and rock shelters were abandoned for the grassy plains, 
which now, replacing the tundra, became the scene of a broadly 
ranging world of grazing herds and nomadic hunting bands. From 
the Dordogne to the Mississippi the mammoth hunt was at its peak. 

We no longer find images of the goddess in the West European 
sites, but she is prominent still in the hunting stations of the broad 
loess lands from eastern Europe to the Baikal zone. Moreover, it 
has been noted that the female figurines of Pr edmost in Moravia, 
Mezin in the Ukraine, and Malta in remote Siberia— which some 
authorities assign to this period, others, however, to the Aurigna- 
cian— bear close comparison with one another. 31 The common 
hunting ground, by this time, was enormous in extent and freely 

Among the skeletal remains a new race of men, arriving ap- 
parently from the east, through Hungary and the Danube basin, 
and pressing as far as to the Dordogne, is revealed in a series of 
remains well represented at Briinn, Bribe, and Pr edmost; and the 
particular talent of these new arrivals was for the fashioning of 
beautiful spear points. Their skulls, however, suggest a certain 
drop in the mental niveau, going down as low as to a capacity of 
about 1350 cc. Animal figurines in mammoth ivory, as well as 
figurines of the goddess, and a particular clarity of decorative geo- 
metrical design, distinguish many of the sites associated with this 
race. One of the Briinn skeletons was lavishly adorned with cowrie 
shells and perforated stone disks, bone ornaments from the ribs 
of the rhinoceros or mammoth, and mammoth teeth. (A badly 
damaged ivory figurine, apparently of a male, was also found in 
this grave, and many of the objects were tinted red.) 32 The race 
was surely one of vigorous hunting nomads and appears to have 
continued the cult of the goddess into Solutrean times. 

In the type station of the period, at Solutre, in central France, 
near the Sao ne, a great open-air camp site has been found, shel- 
tered on the north by a steep ridge and having a fine sunny ex- 
posure toward the south, with immense fireplaces and the remains 



of abundant feasts. Wild cattle and horses, the woolly mammoth, 
the reindeer, and the stag were abundant; likewise the cave and 
brown bear, badger, rabbit, wolf, hyena, and fox. The jackal, too, 
now appears— which in form and character is a precise counter- 
part of America's coyote. 

All these beasts must have figured prominently in the animal 
tales of the period, told at night around the fires— some perhaps 
already in the roles that they are playing to this day, not only in 
the folklore of hunting tribes but also in our children's nursery lore 
and dreams. 


Another cold, wet period arrived, and the grassy steppes began 
to give place in Europe to forests of pine. The great herds of the 
hoofed animals therewith moved toward northern Asia, and with 
them went many of the hunters; yet in the temple- caves of south- 
ern France and northern Spain a firm continuity can be recognized, 
uniting the Magdalenian with the Aurignacian, as though the in- 
tervening Solutrean had been but a passing episode. 

The animal forms of the mural art now are masterfully rendered 
in a powerful, painterly style, with fluent fines and rich coloration, 
through eyes that had looked at animals in a way that has not 
been known since, and by hands perfecdy trained. This art was 
magic. And its herds are the herds of eternity, not of time— yet 
even more vividly real and alive than the animals of time, because 
their ever-living source. At Altamira the great bulls— which are 
almost breathing, they are so alive— are on the ceiling, reminding 
us of their nature; for they are stars. And we recall the mythology 
of Frobenius's Congo Pygmies: how the rays of the rising sun 
slew the herds of the sky* The hunter is identified with the sun, 
his javelin with its rays, and the herds of the field with the herds 
of the sky. The hunt itself is a heavenly adventure, rendering in 
time eternal forms. And the ritual of the cave is, so to say, its 
transubstantiating sacrament. 

And so here they are, these heavenly herds, in the primal abyss 
of the night sky. For according to the logic of this sort of dream. 

* Supra, pp. 296-298. 



this game of myth, where A is B and B is C, this cave is the time- 
less abyss of the night, and these paintings are the prototypes, Pla- 
tonic Ideas, or master forms of those temporal herds of earth, 
which— together with the people— are to play the play of the ani- 
mal master, the willing death, and the sacramental hunt. 

The Magdalenian is the period of the male and female bison of 
the sanctuary of Tuc dAudoubert, the dancing shaman of Trois 
Freres, the shamanistic trance and bison sacrifice of Lascaux, and 
the bear sacrifice of Montespan. The mythology of the Great Hunt 
is in perfect flower. 

But the new animals of an encroaching forest have already 
begun to appear among the remains— the red deer, the forest horse, 
the moose, and the fallow deer— so that the great days of the 
plains are passing. The hunters are turning to the rivers and the 
sea; harpoons of bone are made for whale and seal. Curiously, too, 
the stature of the Cro-Magnon hunters themselves has now con- 
siderably diminished: 5 feet 1 inch and 5 feet 3 inches are their 
typical measurements; no longer 6 feet and 6 feet 4. And the 
brain is down to the capacity of our own today, 1500 cc. 33 

A number of interesting motifs discovered in the graves deserve 
remark. At the Grotto of Les Hoteaux, Ain: a skeleton overlaid 
with Magdalenian implements, resting on its back, covered with 
red ochre, and with its thigh bones inverted. At the Grotto of 
Placard, Charente: seven skulls separated from their bodies for 
burial; a woman's skull surrounded by snail shells, many of which 
were perforated; and two skull tops, fashioned into bowls. At the 
Grotto of Duruthy, at Sorde, Landes: a skeleton with a necklace and 
girdle of lion teeth and bear teeth. At Chancelade: the Eskimo-like 
skeleton already mentioned, legs comparatively short, height not 
more than 4 feet 7 inches, covered with several layers of Mag- 
dalenian artifacts, and the limbs so tightly flexed that they must 
have been enveloped in bandages. And, then, finally, at Oberkassel, 
near Bonn: two skeletons a yard apart, one female, about twenty 
years old, and the other male, about forty or fifty; respectively 
5 feet 2 and 5 feet 3. They were covered with great slabs of basalt, 
and red coloring matter extended completely over the skeletons 
and surrounding stones. The bones of animals were present, also 


a finely carved small bone horse head and a polished bone tool of 
beautiful workmanship carved with the head of some small animal 
resembling a marten. 

We may recognize in these, besides honor and sacrifice, the 
hope that the ghost will stay abroad and leave the living alone: 
the reversed thighs, the separated skulls, the bandaged crouch, 
and the heavy basalt slabs. The bear and lion teeth arc interesting, 
because these two animals, in the northern bear and African lion- 
panther rites, respectively, are, as we have seen, equivalent in 
form* Both animals have their eyes in front, they look ahead, as 
men do, whereas the other animals have their eyes at the side. 
The shaman of Trois Freres is shown staring full face at the 
viewer. And in North Africa, in the Sahara- Atlas range, there is 
again a lion staring full-face at the viewer, in a posture suggesting 
that of the shaman dancer of the French cave and placed in such 
a way as to be struck by the first rays of the rising sun. Like the 
dancer, furthermore, he is in a position of mastery over a great 
field of engraved grazing herds. 34 A mythological association is 
thus suggested of the bear and lion with the sun, solar eye, slaying 
eye, and evil eye, as well as with the animal master and the shaman. 
This must have been for millenniums one of the dominant mytho- 
logical equations underlying the magic of the paleolithic hunt. 

v. The Capsian- Mcrolithic Style 
(c. 30,000/10,000-4000 B.C.) 

A hurly-burly of folk movements, new technologies, mythologi- 
cal orientations, and vivid art forms now breaks upon the scene, 
and we are at the opening of a new age. The bow and arrow have 
appeared, the hunting dog, and an art of rock painting alive with 
vivid little forms: bowmen hunting and fighting, ritual scenes, 
dancers, sacrificial scenes. Whereas the paintings of the caves 
specialized in the forms of the animals of the hunt, here we dis- 
cover a lively dance of human figures in a wonderfully vivid stick- 
man style, developed with a sense for the composition of scenes 
and the rendition of movement. And whereas the art of the caves 
gave the magical, timeless atmosphere of the realm of myth, the 

* Supra, pp. 344-347. 



Capsian hunting scene, Castellon 

happy hunting ground of eternity, and the operations therein of 
the archetypal shamans, here we have an atmosphere of life on 
earth and the ritual acts of living communities. We note, too, that 

Three, women, Castellon 



women are prominent in the scenes, with elegantly rendered ample 
hips and legs, and willowy bodies, gracefully poised. The scenes 
are vibrant with the rhythms of the concerted action of groups. 
Not the shaman now, but the group is the vehicle of the holy 

The heartland of this new style was the grassy hunting ground 
of North Africa, where today there is only desert, and the type 
station is Capsa (Gafsa) in Tunisia. From there a diffusion west- 
ward, turning north into Spain, is to be imagined : Europe's monu- 
ments of the period are in eastern Spain. But the field extends 
across the whole of North Africa to the Nile, the J ordan, Meso- 
potamia, India, and Ceylon. Its characteristic artifact is a tiny geo- 
metric flint, chiefly in trapezoid, rhomboid, and triangular forms, 
commonly known as a microlith, which has been found distributed 
from Morocco to the Vindhya Hills in India, and from South Africa 
to Northern Europe. In contrast to this broad diffusion of the tools 
and weapons, however, the chief reported sites of the art, besides 
those of eastern Spain, are confined to the Sahara, which of old 
was a great park and pasture land, full of game. In the rock pic- 
tures we see herds of elephants and giraffes, rhinos and running 
ostriches, monkeys, wild cattle, sheep and gazelles, giant human 
forms with the heads of jackals or of asses, the lion high on the 
diff, struck by the sun, and then, also, men standing in postures 

Man with a dart, Castellon 



The "White Lady," Rhodesia 

of adoration, with uplifted arms, before great bulls or before a 
standing ram with the sign of the sun-disk between its horns. 35 

We know practically nothing of the early history of this culture; 
not even how far into the past it should be traced. But the earliest 
forms, known as Lower Capsian, take us back at least as far, it 
would appear, as the Aurignacian. The break-through into Spain 
and thence into northern Europe did not occur, however, until 
about 10,000 B.C., where it is termed, variously. Final Capsian, 
Tardenoisian, Azilian, microlithic, mesolithic, proto-neolithic, or 
epipaleolithic. Let us not become confused, however, by names! 

The Capsians of North Africa appear to have been a folk of 


moderate stature, averaging about five to five and a half feet tall, 
having long heads with retreating foreheads. They hunted with 
boomerangs, dubs, and bows, speared fish with delicate harpoons, 
oollected berries and roots, and made a great thing of snails and 
shellfish. They wore beads, disk-shaped, of ostrich-egg shell, 
feathers, bracelets and girdles of perforated shells. The males- 
like many innocents of the woman- dominated equatorial zone — 
instead of concealing, decorated their genitals, while the women 
wore long stylish skirts. The Natufians of the Mount Carmel 
caves, on whose appearance, c 6000 B.C., we based our dating of 
the proto-neolithic* were a people of this Capsian culture style. 
Furthermore, with the progressive desiccation of the Sahara and 
departure of the teeming game, during the fourth millennium B.C., 
the Capsians and their painting art moved south, where their in- 
fluence can be seen in the various styles of South Rhodesia: the 
graceful hunting scenes of the Bushmen of Basutoland; the now 
famous, more mysterious "White Lady" of Damaraland (who, it 
appears, however, is actually a man— "a king," they say, but no 
doubt, then, a god- king) ; and finally, the curious murals of Rusafe, 
where the sacred regicide and resurrection of the moon-king are 

And so we are brought back, once more, to our problems of 
the ritual sacrifice, the dawn of the neolithic, and the mysteries of 
the monster serpent and the maiden. 

* Supra, pp. 136-138. 

Chapter 10 


I. The Great Serpent of the Earliest Planters 
(c. 7500 B.C.?) 

A young woman— we are told— went into the forest. The serpent 
saw her. "Come!" he said. But the young woman answered, "Who 
would have you for a husband? You are a serpent. I will not 
marry you." He said, "My body is indeed that of a serpent, but 
my speech is that of a man. Come!" And she went with him, 
married him, and presently bore a boy and girl; after which the 
serpent husband put her away, saying, "Go! I shall take care of 
them and give them food. " 

The serpent fed the children and they grew. One day the serpent 
said to them, "Go, catch some fish!" They did so and returned, 
and he said, "Cook the fish!" but they replied, "The sun has not 
yet risen." When the sun rose and warmed the fish with its rays, 
they consumed the food, still raw and bloody. 

And the serpent said, "You two are spirits; for you eat your 
food raw. Perhaps you will eat me. You, girl, stay here! You, boy, 
crawl into my belly!" The boy was afraid and said, "What shall I 
do?" But the snake said, "Come!" and he crept into the serpent's 
belly. The serpent said to him, "Take the fire and bring it out to 
your sister! Come out and gather coconuts, yams, taro, and 
bananas!" So the boy crept out again, bringing the fire from the 
belly of the serpent. 

Then, having gathered roots and fruit, as told, they lit a fire 



with the brand the boy had brought forth, and cooked their food; 
and when they had eaten, the serpent asked, "Is my kind of food 
or yours the better?" To which they answered, "Yours! Our kind 
is bad." 1 

Here is a legend of the planting world such as might have been 
told practically anywhere along the tropical arc of the primaiy 
migration, from Africa eastward (south of the Elburz- Himalayan 
mountain line) to southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Melanesia; 
whereas, actually, its place along the arc was a primitive enclave 
at the remote eastern end of this great tropical province: the 
Admiralty Islands, just off the northern coast of New Guinea. 

Now the archaeology of the paleolithic periods of Southeast 
Asia has, unfortunately, hardly been broached; but the bit that we 
know indicates that the region was far behind Africa in its de- 
velopment of Stone Age tools. Furthermore, as Professor Robert 
Heine-Geldem has observed: "The paleolithic seems to have 
lasted here into a very late period. Apparently paleolithic cultures 
maintained themselves in large parts of the area, particularly in 
western Indonesia, well into the second millennium B.c., and in 
places even into much later times." 2 

Of the mythologies open to study in that extremely interesting 
area, many are undoubtedly of great age. But, as we have seen in 
the Andaman Island legend of Sir Monitor Lizard and Lady Civet 
Cat playing the roles of Tammuz and Ishtar, traits from the higher 
culture spheres can be absorbed even by the most primitive tradi- 
tions. And yet, on the other hand, as we have seen in the case of 
the Solo (Ngandong) skulls from c. 200,000 B.c. treated in the 
manner of the modem Borneo headhunt, the most amazing con- 
servatism can also be represented in these societies. Coming across 
such a trait, therefore, as that of the serpent and the maiden among 
primitive Papuans, are we to think it a regressed, or a primitive, 
form of the Fall in the Garden? Or does anyone know, indeed, 
where this mythological theme first arose? 

It is reasonably clear that the widely known mythological theme 
of the serpent and the maiden first appeared somewhere along the 
arc of the primaiy tropical diffusion from Africa, through Arabia 
and the Near East, to India, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and 



Melanesia. As we have learned from the evidence of the paleolithic 
tools,* a broad and even fairly rapid diffusion along this arc can 
be readily demonstrated; however, two major provinces are to be 
distinguished: (a) that from Africa to India; and (b) that from 
North- Central India, through Southeast Asia, to Indonesia and 
Melanesia. In the first, a number of developed varieties of the 
paleolithic hand ax have been found as well as earlier and cruder 
"pebble tools"; but in the second, only relatively crude types of 
chopping tool. Furthermore, in the first we have found the vigorous 
microlithic-Capsian diffusion, which did not extend into the second. 
So that Province a would appear not only to have been the earlier 
of the two, but also to have retained the cultural lead at least until 
the end of the paleolithic. 

No one has yet determined where the first steps were taken 
toward plant cultivation. Menghin has suggested tropical South 
Asia,- 3 Heine- Geldem has termed this idea unlikely, without sug- 
gesting an alternative. 4 The only possible alternative, however, is 
some more westerly part of Province a; which, indeed, would seem 
to have been the sector— and therewith the likely sector also for our 
myth of the serpent and the maiden, which, as we have seen, is 
linked to the idea of the cultivated plant. 

We have already spoken of the biological theory of a "zone of 
hominization" : a limited yet sufficiently broad area of the earth's 
surface, relatively uniform in character, where a large population 
of closely related individuals became affected simultaneously by a 
series of genetic mutations conducing to the appearance of a 
considerable variety of manlike forms.! I should like now to pro- 
pose a comparable theory for the origin both of our myth and of the 
art of cultivating plants, with which it is affiliated. For we can be 
certain that from one end to the other of Province a there was an 
effective communication of thought and techniques; slow, indeed, 
according to modem standards— requiring centuries instead of sec- 
onds— yet eventually effective, nevertheless. And so we may think 
of this broad area as a continuum in which a fairly uniform state of 
human affairs prevailed and which, consequently, was characterized 

* Supra, pp. 364-365. 

t Supra, pp. 357-358. 


by a fairly uniform state of psychological readiness for the reception 
of an imprint— a readiness, that is to say, for precisely such "sei- 
zures" as that described in our account of the professor's little girl 
and the witch.* The whole province might therefore be described 
as a limited yet sufficiently broad area of the earth's surface, rela- 
tively uniform in character, where a large population of closely re- 
lated individuals (to wit, the members of the relatively recent species 
Homo sapiens) became affected simultaneously by roughly com- 
parable imprints, and where, consequently, "seizures" of like kind 
were everywhere impending and, in fact, became precipitated in a 
ritualized procedure and related myth. We may term such a zone a 
"mythogenetic zone," and it should be the task of our science to 
identify such zones and clearly distinguish them from "zones of 
diffusion," as well as from zones of later development and further 

In the case of our present myth, we do not know where, on the 
great arc of Province a, the idea occurred to some of the women 
grubbing for edible roots that it would be sensible to concentrate 
their food plants in gardens; nor do we know whether the idea 
stemmed from a concept of economy or from some "seizure" and 
related ritual play. All that is certain is that the functions of planting 
and of this myth are related and that the myth flourishes among 
gardeners; moreover, that it can have appeared spontaneously 
within a broad zone of readiness in more than one place at once; 
and finally, that within a period which in terms of paleolithic reckon- 
ing need not have been long (say, a thousand years) the myths and 
rites, together with their associated gardening techniques, can have 
filled the arc. We may guess the date, therefore, to have been some- 
where in the neighborhood of 7500 B.c. 

But since we know that a mythology of the goddess was already 
flourishing earlier than this— having shown itself in the Aurignacian 
figurines, practically with the first appearance of Homo sapiens on 
the prehistoric scene— we must recognize that the myth of the 
serpent and the maiden represents only a development from an 
earlier base. In the rickety child's grave at the Mal'ta site, where 
some twenty female figurines were found, there was an ivory 

• Supra, pp. 22-23. 



plaque bearing on one side a spiral design and on the other three 
cobralike snakes. Another spiral was stippled on the side of an 
ivory fish. The child was in the fetal position, facing east. And 
there were some ivory birds in the grave. 

Now an extremely primitive Papuan tribe, the Baining of New 
Britain, declare that the sun one day called all things together and 
asked which desired to live forever. Unfortunately, man disobeyed 
the summons, and that is why the stones and snakes now live forever, 
but not man. Had man obeyed the sun, he would have been able 
to change his skin, from time to time, like a snake. 5 

This symbolism of the serpent of eternal life appearing in the 
paleolithic period on the reverse of a plaque bearing on its obverse 
the labyrinth of death; a fish in the same assemblage bearing the 
labyrinth on its side; the birds, suggesting a flight of the soul in 
death, as in shamanistic trance; the orientation to the rising sun; 
and the fetal posture of the little skeleton— these, in a single grave 
in a site where twenty statuettes of the goddess were discovered 
as well as a number of ceremonially buried beasts,* speak for the 
presence of a developed mythology in the late paleolithic, in which 
the goddess of spiritual rebirth was already associated with the 
symbols of the very much later neolithic cult of Ishtar-Aphrodite: 
the bird, the fish, the serpent, and the labyrinth. 

And so we are brought, once again, as always through myth, 
to the problem of permanence in change, or, as J ames J oyce says, 
to what is "ever the same yet changing ever." And the permanent 
presence in this particular context is obviously woman, both in 
her way of experiencing life and in her character as an imprint— a 
message from the world— for the male to assimilate. The Neander- 
thal graves and bear sanctuaries, our earliest certain evidences of 
religious ritual, point to an attempt to cope with the imprint of 
death. But the mystery of the woman is no less a mystery than 
death. Childbirth is no less a mystery; nor the flow of the mother's 
milk; nor the menstrual cycle— in its accord with the moon. The 
creative magic of the female body is a thing of wonder in itself. 
And so it is that, whereas the men in their rites (as initiates, tribal 
dignitaries, shamans, or what not) are invariably invested with 

»Supra,pp. 329-331. 


magical costumes, the most potent magic of the womanly body 
inheres in itself. In all her primary epiphanies, therefore, whether 
in the paleolithic figurines or in the neolithic, she is typically the 
naked goddess, with an iconographic accent on the symbolism of 
her own magical form. 

Woman, as the magical door from the other world, through 
which lives enter into this, stands naturally in counterpoise to the 
door of death, through which they leave. And no theology need 
be implied in this, but only mystery and the wonder of a stunned 
mind before an apprehended segment of the universe— together 
with a will to become linked to whatever power may inhabit such 
a wonder. Let us recall the charge of the Blackfoot conductor of 
the buffalo to his two wives, that they should remain in the lodge 
that day and pray. "Pray," is perhaps merely the word of the 
modem interpreter; better might have been the phrase, "perform 
their magic, " for, as we have seen, the men's role in the hunt had 
to be supported by the magic of their women. However, in the 
regions of the Great Hunt, where an essentially unbroken mascu- 
line psychology prevailed, supported by tokens of prestige, skillful 
achievement, and the firm establishment of a courageous ego, the 
feminine principle could be only ancillary to the purposes con- 
ceived and executed by the males. The goddess and her living 
counterparts could give magical support to the men's difficult tasks 
but not touch their ruling concept of the nature of being. In the 
mythologies of that world, or conceived in the spirit of that world, 
therefore, the fundamental theme is always achievement: achieve- 
ment of eternal life, magical power, the kingdom of God on 
earth, illumination, wealth, a good-natured woman, or something 
else of the kind. The dominant principle is do ut des: "I give so that 
thou mayest give"— "I give to Thee, O God, so that Thou, in 
turn, mayest give something nice to me— whether in this life or in 
the next. " 

In the milder regions of the plant- dominated tropics, on the 
other band, the feminine side was not simply andllaiy but could 
even establish— out of its own mode of experience— the dominant 
pattern of the culture and its myth. And this is the force that 
comes to view in the myth of the serpent and the maiden, where 



the basic elements are: (1) the young woman ready for marriage 
(the nymph), associated with the mysteries of birth and menstrua- 
tion, these mysteries (and the womb itself, therefore) being 
identified with the lunar force; (2) the fructifying masculine 
semen, identified with the waters of the earth and sky and imaged 
in the phallic, waterlike, lightninglike serpent by which the maiden 
is to be transformed; and (3) an experience of life as change, 
transformation, death, and new birth. 

The analogy of death and resurrection with the waning and 
waxing of the moon; the analogy of the water's disintegration and 
fructification of the seed with the shadow swallowing and releas- 
ing the moon, and therewith, as it were, the moon's sloughing of 
its skin of death; furthermore the resemblance of both of these 
cycles, plant and lunar, to the passing and rising of the gen- 
erations, as well as to certain spiritual experiences of melan- 
choly and rapture intrinsic to the psyche— these perceived anal- 
ogies must have constituted then, as they do still, a source both 
of fascination and of inspiration to at least the more thought- 
ful members of the species, who at that time may well have 
constituted an even larger proportion of the population than today. 

A diffusion of this mythology and its ritual enactment of the 
mystery of the monster serpent and the maiden from the mytho- 
genetic zone of Province a must have carried it in due course to 
Province b, and then eastward into the drcum- Pacific area, as well 
as northwestward from Province a to the Mediterranean. So that the 
curious myth at the opening of our chapter, of the young woman 
whose serpent husband gave fire to their children, is almost certainly 
a descendant of the same tradition that in the Mediterranean sphere 
produced the legends of Persephone and Eve. 

The amazing fact, however, is that in the Admiralty Island ver- 
sion, which is a comparatively primitive variant remaining on a 
proto- neolithic level, the antithesis that gave Nietzsche so much to 
think about, between the myths of the feminine Fall and masculine 
fire-theft, is dissolved— in a single image, full of seeming import, 
which contains both themes. 

It is through just such shifts of emphasis that primitive myths. 


and the myths of alien worlds, enable us to read anew the once pliant 
images in our own tradition, which the centuries have embalmed. 

II. The Birth of Civilization in the Near East 
(c. 7500-2500 B.C.) 

The concept of the "mythogenetic zone" applied to the stages 
of our subject already viewed will clarify the main outlines of this 
natural history of the gods. 

Stage I we have termed the Stage of Plesianthropus. There can 
be no question as to where myths and rites arose during this 
period, if at all. Whatever part of the earth the students of 
paleontology may ultimately recognize as having been the "zone 
of hominization"— the part of the earth in which our species 
stepped away from its less playful, more grown-up, more serious- 
minded, economically oriented fellows, and began to play games 
of its own invention instead of only those of nature's— we shall 
recognize as our primaiy "mythogenetic zone." 

The brain capacity of Plesianthropus does not promise much in 
the way of stimulating ideas; nor is the evidence rich enough to 
give us more than clues for romantic guesses. Yet both the pygmoid 
and the gigantic hominids of that time must have responded— as all 
animals do— to the sign stimuli not only of their environments 
but also of their own bodies and sorial situations. Also, no less 
than Kohler's chimpanzees, they must have enjoyed the playful 
invention of new situations, games, and organizations. Such games, 
it is true, are not yet rites. But if the brain of Plesianthropus was 
capable of playing with patterns of thought as well as with pat- 
terns of movement, the ground was present for a "seizure" on 
this level. An individual "seizure"— comparable, on the mental 
plane, to the chimpanzee's "seizure" by the round polished stone * 
—would have been a pointer, already, toward the mentality of 
shamanism, while a group "seizure"— again on the mental plane, 
but comparable to the fascination of the chimpanzees for their 
dervish dance or for their dance around the polef— would have 

* Supra, p. 358. 
t Supra, pp. 358-359. 



produced something like a popular cult. The game, if com- 
municated, would then have established a tradition. And the 
endurance of the tradition would have depended upon the force 
of its appeal— that is to say, its power to evoke and organize life 
energy. In short, if, besides inventing patterns of movement, 
Plesianthropus was capable also of patterns of thought (mytho- 
logical associations to go along with his ritual games), the first 
chapter of our science would have begun. 

The only tangible evidence of anything of the kind, however, is 
that curious separation of heads and tails from animal skeletons 
observed and described by Professor Dart. Theorizing on the 
basis of this evidence, one might suggest, hypothetically, that the 
cult of the animal offering with its game of "life beyond death and 
a pleasant journey home" had already opened its prodigious 
career. The psychological force of such a play is epitomized in 
Roheim's formula: "Whatever is killed becomes father." The 
veneration of the food animal, according to this formula, is simply 
inevitable in a hunting community— provided the inhabitants are 
actually hominids, not beasts. And that Plesianthropus was a kind 
of man seems to be indicated by the fact that he brained his prey 
with a club— with a tool, that is to say— instead of his empty hands 
and naked teeth. 

Stage II, that of Pithecanthropus (c. 400,000 B.c.), reveals a 
two-pronged diffusion from the "zone of hominization" (which was 
probably South and East Africa) : ( 1 ) northward into Europe 
(Heidelberg Man), and (2) eastward through the tropical arc 
to Java (Pithecanthropus), and then northward up the Pacific 
coast to Peking (Sinanthropus). For the primitive mythology of 
the animal- head cult (if such existed), zones (1) and (2) would 
thus have been "2ones of diffusion." 

However, two new phenomena now appear, and these would 
seem to indicate the emergence of two new "mythogenetic zones." 
The first phenomenon is the elegant development of the hand ax 
in the western sector of the tropical arc (Africa to western India) 
and in Europe; the second, the appearance of fire in the gruesome 
den of Peking Man. Professor J. E. Weckler has observed that 


throughout much of the early glacial period the eastern end of the 
tropical arc was cut off from the west by desert and ice, and that, 
consequently, two separate provinces of human evolution were 
delineated. 6 In the west, as we have already noted,* stone tools 
developed into beautiful, symmetrically balanced forms, some of 
which are so large and elegant as to suggest implements for ritual 
use. In the east, on the other hand, stone tools remained in a 
relatively primitive state— but fire was discovered and put to use. 
The mythology and ritual lore of the hand ax, which in later 
myth and cult became linked to the idea of thunder (Thor's ham- 
mer, the bolt of Zeus, Indra, etc.), would have begun, then, in 
the west, while the mythologies and ritual practices associated with 
fire would have sprung— like the sun— from the east. We do not 
know what the early mythologies may have been; but I think it 
interesting that the bolt in later myth is generally associated with 
a god, whereas fire in the east is frequently the gift, or even the 
very body, of a goddess. We have already spoken of the Ainu 
goddess of the hearth, and have remarked also that the Ainu name 
of this goddess, Fuji, appears in the name of the sacred volcano 
Fujiyama. In Hawaii the goddess Pele is the goddess of the 
dangerous yet beloved volcano Kilauea, where the old chieftains 
dwell forever, playing their royal games in the flames. And in 
Malekula, in Melanesia, the journey of the dead leads to and 
through the goddess guardian of the path to a volcano. In J apan 
the sun is a goddess and the moon a god; so too in Germany, 
where the sun is female (die Sonne) and the moon a male (der 
Mond)— while in France, beyond the Rhine, the sun is le soleil, 
and the moon, la lune. 

There is, in fact, a great mythological area east of the Rhine, 
where the myth of the moon brother and sun sister is told. Briefly, 
the tale is of a young woman who at night was visited by a lover 
whom she never saw. But one night, determining to learn his 
identity, she blackened her hands in the coals of the fire before 
he came and, embracing him, left the imprint on his back. In the 
morning she saw the marks of her own palms on her brother and, 
screaming with horror, ran away. She is the sun, he the moon. 

* Supra, p. 386. 



And he has been pursuing his sister ever since. One can see the 
hand marks on his back, and when he catches her there is an 
eclipse. This myth was known to the North American Indians, as 
well as to the northern Asian tribes, and may indeed be of im- 
mense age. 

It would surely be ridiculous to press the contrast of the 
feminine fire and the masculine bolt on back to a couple of 
hypothetical mythogenetic zones of about 400,000 B.C.— but a 
polarity of some kind is surely indicated in the evidence, and who 
will say that in the deepest levels of our two culture worlds of 
East and West (which harbor even greater differences than anyone 
today cares to think) the dialogue could not still be in progress of 
the God of the Bolt and the Goddess Fire? 

Stage III, that of Neanderthal Man (c. 200,000-75,000/25,000 
B.c.), reveals in Central Europe the earliest dependable evidence 
found anywhere of an establishment of myth and rite: ceremonial 
burials with grave gear, and bear- skull sanctuaries in high moun- 
tain peaks. Professor Weckler has suggested that Homo neander- 
thalensis may have come from the Oriental zone, pressing west 
across the tundras into Europe, where he was the first to use fire. 7 
Sinanthropus, it will be recalled, who had already captured fire 
as early as c. 400,000 B.C., was a cannibal; so also Neanderthal 
Man: we have mentioned the evidence of the opened skulls at 
Krapina and Ehringsdorf.* But in Java too a number of such 
opened skulls have been found among the remains of Solo 
(Ngandong) Man, Neanderthal's Oriental contemporaiy; and 
these were opened precisely in the way of the skulls of the 
present-day headhunters of Borneo. t Neanderthal and Solo Man, 
therefore, may have practiced some form of ritual cannibalism in 
connection with an early version of the headhunt; and if so, the 
formula should perhaps be carried back even to the period of 
Plesianthropus, who killed and beheaded men as well as beasts — 
in which case, this grim cult might reasonably be proposed as the 
earliest religious rite of the human species. 

* Supra, p. 373. 

t Supra, loc. dt 


But now, with respect to the earliest employment of fire, a 
curious problem arises when it is realized that although the heavy- 
browed family of Sinanthropus crouched around its hearth as 
early as c. 400,000 B.C. and that of Neanderthal Man c. 200,000, 
those lusty brutes gobbled their meals of fresh meat and brains — 
whether human or animal— absolutely raw. For it was not until 
the period of the far more highly developed races of the temple 
caves, c. 30,000-10,000 B.C., that the art of roasting was invented. 

But then, why the hearths? 

It has been suggested that they were used to heat the caves, 8 and 
this, indeed, would seem to have been the only practical end to 
which they were turned. However, even if this were the case, one 
would still have to ask by what accident Sinanthropus could have 
learned that the blast of a forest, prairie, or volcanic fire could 
have been turned to such congenial use. 

A possible answer is provided by the Ainu ritual of the moun- 
tain bear ceremonially entertained during his night-long conversa- 
tion with the goddess of the hearth; for the fire in that context was 
not a mere device for the provision of heat but the actual presence 
of a divinity. The earliest hearths, too, could have been shrines, 
where fire was cherished in and for itself in the way of a holy 
image or primitive fetish. The practical value of such a living 
presence, then, would have been discovered in due time. 

The suggestion is rendered the more likely, furthermore, when 
it is considered that throughout the world the hearth fire remains 
to this day a sacred as well as secular institution. In many lands, 
at the time of a marriage, the kindling of the hearth in the new 
home is a crucial rite, and the domestic cult comes to focus in the 
preservation of its flame. Perpetual flames and votive lights are 
known practically everywhere in the developed religious cults. 
The vestal fire of Rome, with its attendant priestesses, was neither 
for cooking nor for the provision of heat. And we have already 
learned of the holy fire made and extinguished at the times of the 
installation and murder of the god- king. 

The hearth, then; the mountain sanctuary of the bear; and the 
ceremonial burial with grave gear, animal sacrifice, and perhaps 
occasional ritual cannibalism— these, in the period of Neanderthal 



Man, supply our chief clues to the religious life of a broad middle 
paleolithic province, documented from the Alps to the Arctic 
Ocean, eastward to J apan and south to Indonesia. But where the 
mythogenetic zone and where the diffusion zones within this vast 
area may have been we do not know— though, surely, the earliest 
points of reference thus far discovered are the bear- skull sanctu- 
aries of the Central European peaks. 

And finally, as to the question of other possible mythogenetic 
zones and ritual syndromes developed during the course of this 
long period, whether in Africa, western Europe, or Southwest 
Asia, nothing has yet been found that could be read as evidence. 
However, it is entirely possible that the cults of the female 
statuettes and temple caves, which appear abruptly in the follow- 
ing period, were in the process of formation during this earlier, 
darker day, but have left no evidence; for where wood is abundant 
as a material for sculpture, and leaves, bark, feathers, etc., for 
ritual masks, no remains survive. Some part of the great primary 
field of the tropics, therefore, may have been the mythogenetic 
zone for the earlier stages of the cults that abruptly appear, already 
fully formed, in the documented late paleolithic areas of the 
golden age of the Great Hunt. 

Stage IV, then (c. 30,000-10,000 B.C.), reveals the mythology 
of the naked goddess and the mythology of the temple- caves. 

The richest finds of the first of these two complexes have turned 
up in the Ukraine, though the range extends westward to the 
Pyrenees and eastward to Lake Baikal. Provisionally, therefore, 
the Ukraine may be designated as the mythogenetic zone; and 
this likelihood is rendered the more evident when it is considered 
that many of the basic elements of the complex were to reappear in 
the neolithic goddess- cults of the fifth millennium B.C., directly 
to the south, on the opposite flank of the Black Sea. 

The relationship of these two goddess- cults to that of the Ainu 
fire- goddess is probably extremely remote: they appear to have 
stemmed from different mythogenetic zones. Nevertheless, in the 
areas of their diffusion they undoubtedly met and possibly were 
amalgamated. And finally, of course, both represent the imprint 


of the "permanent presence" previously discussed, namely, woman. 

The second mythology of this important era, that of the great 
temple- caves, is definitely centered in northern Spain and southern 
France— the so-called Franco- Cantabrian zone— and though the 
cult may have commenced as a provincial form of some earlier 
masked ritual of the men's dancing grounds developed in areas to 
the south, it achieved here a character and ritual investment of 
such force that the area must be regarded as our first precisely 
pin-pointed mythogenetic zone; one, furthermore, from whose 
truly marvelous amplifications of the symbology of the labyrinthine 
chambers of the soul every one of the high religions and most of the 
primitive, also, have received instruction. 

What a coincidence of nature and the mind these caves reveal! 
And what an evocation it must have been that drew forth these 
images! Apparently the cave, as literal fact, evoked, in the way 
of a sign stimulus, the latent energies of that other cave, the un- 
fathomed human heart, and what poured forth was the first 
creation of a temple in the history of the world. A shrine is one 
thing, a temple another. A shrine is a little place for magic, or for 
converse with a divinity. A temple is the projection into earthly 
space of a house of myth; and as far as history and archaeology 
have yet shown, these paleolithic temple- caves were the first 
realizations of this kind, the first manifestations of the fact that 
there is a readiness in man's heart for the supernormal image, and 
in his mind and hand the capacity to create it. Here, therefore, 
nature supplied the catalyst, a literal, actual presentation of the 
void. And when the sense of time and space was gone, the 
visionary journey of the seer began. 

The fashioning of an image is one thing, the fashioning of a 
mythological realm another. And the remarkable fact, it seems to 
me, is that, for all their complication, these caves— or at least a 
number of them— are conceived as units, with outer and inner 
chambers of increasing power. Consider, for example, the composi- 
tion of the upper cave at Lascaux, with its scenes of the happy 
hunting ground and its curious wizard beast with the pointing- 
stick horns; and then below, in the crypt, the shaman and Master 
Bull, upon whose magical accord the whole happy hunt above 



depends. Or consider at Trois Freres the long flume of the difficult 
approach— the difficult journey— leading to the great chamber of 
the animals, where the only form with emphasizing paint upon it 
was the dancing shaman. In this latter case we are dramatically 
confronted by a new thing in the world: the use of a change of 
art technigue to render a magnification of power. And then finally, 
at the cavern of Tuc dAudoubert, the visitor passes, first, through 
beautifully painted chambers and then, clambering through a very 
small entrance— which the boys who discovered the cave called 
"the cat's hole," and going through which their father, the Count 
Begouen, got stuck and had to forfeit both his shirt and his 
trousers— one arrives in the sanctuary of the connubium of the two 
divine bison, who are rendered not in paint but in bas relief, not 
in two dimensions but in three; so that here, once again, the pos- 
sibilities of art were being exploited, in a way never known be- 
fore, to communicate the sense of a heightening of the spiritual 
power sphere. The placement of the shaman in the crypt of 
Lascaux, the emphasized form of the dancing shaman of Trois 
Freres, and the plastic rendition of the bison pair of Tuc 
d'Audoubert speak volumes for the degree of esthetic sensibility 
of the artists of these caves, who were greater men by far than mere 
primitive magicians, conjuring animals. They were mystagogues, 
conjuring the minds of men. 

And so it is, I believe, that we can say that in the mythogenetic 
zone of the Franco- Cantabrian caves the rendition in art of the 
mythological realm itself was achieved for the first time in the 
history of the world. All cathedrals, all temples since— which are 
not mere meeting houses but manifestations to the mind of the 
magical space of God— derive from these caves. And I would say, 
also, that we have here our first certain sign of the operation of 
the fertilized masculine spirit, the upbeat to La Divina Commedia 
and to all those magical temples of the Orient wherein the heart 
and mind are winged away from earth and reach first the heavens 
of the stars, but then beyond. Though within the earth in these 
caves, we have left it, on the wings of dream. And this, already, 
is the wondrous flight so beautifully rendered in Gregory of 
Nyssa's image of the "wings of the dove," as the primary symbol 


of the Holy Spirit, whereby our nature, "transforming itself from 
glory to glory," moves on without bound or ultimate term toward 
no limit. "For the soul turned toward God, fully committed to its 
desire for incorruptible beauty, is moved by a desire for the tran- 
scendent ever anew, and this desire is never filled to satiety. That 
is why the dove never ceases to move on toward what is before, 
going on horn where it now is, to penetrate that further to which 
it has not yet come." 9 It flies into the shadows, and the shadows 
continually recede, yet are ever there; for the shadows through 
which the dove is flying-mow and forever— are neither more nor 
less than "the incomprehensibility of the essence or being of the 

Stage V is represented by the Capsian. The vast diffusion of the 
microliths, ftom Morocco to Ceylon and from South Africa to 
northern Europe, charts the horizon of this new influence. But a 
much more limited center of creative force is indicated by the 
distribution of the art works of the period, the chief centers of 
which are in North Africa and eastern Spain— though with echoes 
of diffusion southward to the Cape and eastward into those 
regions that were soon to become the matrices of the next great 
mythopoetic transformation. The Capsian art, as we have said, is 
in dear contrast to the Magdalenian. fn its passage from north to 
south, the paleolithic tradition renounced the task of projecting 
magical realms. Instead, it now is presenting the earthly scenes of 
a mythologically inspired community almost on the level, we might 
say, of women's gossip, or of ethnology. We see the exterior, not 
so much the interior, of that long-forgotten period of mankind's 
spiritual as well as physical devdopment. 

Can it be said, then, that we have the evidence here of an 
impact from the north upon the south? f bdieve it can. And f 
would say also that in Stage IV of our sketchy history we had the 
evidence of an impact from the south upon the north. For it is 
surely remarkable that in predsdy those areas on dther side of the 
Mediterranean where a possibility of cross- fer tiliza tion existed in 
that period of no sailing craft— that is to say, on either side of the 
oomparativdy narrow barrier of Gibraltar— the two most impres- 


sive heightenings of the paleolithic world of thought and per- 
formance come into view. 

North Africa, in any case, can be provisionally regarded as the 
mythogenetic zone of the Capsian rites illustrated on its open- 
faced rock walls. And if we may judge from the evidence of a 
number of the scenes, the underlying mythology was almost 
exactly that which we have already seen represented also in the 
ritual of the Congo Pygmies.* Their picture of a gazelle struck 
by the rays of the sun and the magical cry of the woman with her 
lifted arms were vestiges in the twentieth century A.D. of the 
world's most advanced thinking of the tenth century B.C. 

But in this art we are on the brink of a prodigious transforma- 
tion, certainly the most important in the history of the world. For 
among the beasts represented we can identify precisely those 
types of cattle and sheep that are about to appear as the barn- 
yard stock of the neolithic. Indeed, an only slightly later level of 
engravings on the same North African rock walls— in the same 
sites— shows the same animals domesticated. Furthermore, on 
several of the older engravings of the Capsian period appear 
superimposed engravings of planetary symbols; for example, on a 
rock wall in the Sahara- Atlas range, at Jebel Bes Seba, the disk 
of the sun superimposed upon the head of a ram 10 —reminding 
us that in Egypt the sun-god Ammun presently would be repre- 
sented as a ram. 

In the broadest terms, the apogee of the Capsian phase of the 
epipaleolithic, mesolithic, proto- neolithic stage of development 
(however one may like to name it) we can associate with a time, 
about 10,000 B.C., "when," as Dr. Henri Frankfort declares, "the 
Atlantic rain storms had not yet followed the retreating ice cap 
northward; when grasslands extended from the Atlantic coast of 
Africa up to the Persian mountains; and when, in this continuum, 
the ancestors of both the Hamitic- and the Semitic- speaking 
peoples roamed with their herds. " 11 

The herds were followed by hunters first, we may imagine, pre- 
cisely as were the bison of the North American plains, and the first 
step toward domestication can have been taken when— as sometimes 

* Supra, pp. 296-298. 


happened on the plains— a hunting band remained dose to a 
single herd for some time, as if it were a kind of living larder, 
fighting off alien groups wishing to poach upon it, and killing only 
a few of its number from day to day. When the possibility of 
corralling such a herd then dawned on some bright mind— or 
number of minds— the idea would have spread like wildfire from 
one extreme of the herding continuum to another^) ust as, in the 
tropical arc, the idea of domesticating plants must have spread. 

And now, it seems to me extremely significant that the neolithic 
came into being almost precisely at the point where the hunting 
continuum described by Dr. Frankfort ("from the Atlantic coast 
of Africa up to the Persian mountains") and the tropical arc of 
our primary diffusion (from South and East Africa, through 
Arabia, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Iran, to India and Southeast 
Asia) * intersect; namely, the area that old Professor James 
Henry Breasted used to call "the Fertile Crescent." It is entirely 
possible that the idea of domestication passed from one of these 
two spheres to the other— from the herders to the planters, or 
vice versa. But in any case, it is surely no accident that the 
neolithic dawned— and with it civilization— in the Near East, and 
precisely at the point where the semi-primitive, proto- neolithic arts 
of plant and cattle cultivation would have met. 

Stage VI, the birth of civilization in the Near East, we have 
outlined in Part Two, Chapter 1. The mythogenetic zone is the 
Fertile Crescent and its flanking mountains, from the Nile up the 
coast to Syria, then down to the Persian Gulf. And the phases of 
the development, sketched in the broadest lines, are four: 

1. The proto- neolithic (c. 7500-5500 B.C.), the phase of the 
Natufians, which can now be described as an advance from the 
Capsian, with the promising, highly significant addition of a grain 
or grass harvest to the provisions of the hunt. As I have observed, 
we do not know whether a planting had preceded the harvest or 
whether the animals killed were yet domesticated. But if the 
Natufians were not domesticating, they were nevertheless slaughter- 
ing the pig, goat, sheep, ox, and an equid of some sort, the same 

* Cf. supra, pp. 362 and 385. 



beasts that were later to constitute the basic barnyard stock of all 
the higher cultures. And if they were not planting, they were 
nevertheless harvesting some variety of wild or primitive grain. As 
we have said, the first discoveries of their remains were made in 
the Mount Carmel caves in Palestine. But similar finds have 
turned up since, from Helwan in Egypt to Beirut and Yabrud, and 
as far west as to the Kurdish hills of Iraq. 

2. The basal neolithic (c. 5500-4500 B.C.), when the founda- 
tions of a well-established barnyard economy based on grain 
agriculture and stock-breeding were already a firmly established 
pattern and the new style of village living had already begun to 
spread from the primary zone. The chief crops were wheat and 
barley, and the animals domesticated were the pig, goat, sheep, 
and ox, the dog having already joined the human tribes by the 
time of the Capsian period, as a companion of the hunt. Pottery 
and weaving had been added to the sum of human skills; likewise 
the arts of carpentry and house-building. And then suddenly— 
very suddenly— the evidence of a new great leap ahead appears 
in the pottery, the finely fashioned, very beautiful painted pottery 
of the next phase: 

3. The high neolithic (c. 4500-3500 B.c.), when the elegant 
geometrically organized designs of the pottery styles of Halaf, 
Samarra, and Obeid appear. As we observed in Part Two, Chapter 
1, this sort of geometrical organization of a field was a new thing 
in the world at that time and its appearance poses a psychological 
problem. For why should it have been that just when a settled 
style of village life came into being, an art of abstract forms 
geometrically organized came into being too? The answer, I 
believe, is that in the period of the earlier hunting societies there 
was no differentiation of social functions except along sexual or 
age lines, every individual was technically a master of the whole 
cultural inheritance, and the communities were therefore con- 
stituted of practically equivalent individuals; whereas in the 
larger, more greatly differentiated communities of the high 
neolithic, there had already begun that tendency toward specializa- 
tion which in the next period was to reach a climax. On the level 
of a primitive society adulthood consists in being a whole man. 



In the later, differentiated type of society, on the other hand, 
adulthood consists in acquiring, first, a certain special art or skill, 
and then the ability to support or sustain the resultant tension— 
a psychological as well as sociological tension— between oneself 
(as merely a fraction of a larger whole) and others of totally 
different training, powers, and ideals, who constitute the other 
necessary organs of the body social. The sudden appearance in 
the high neolithic of a geometrically composed art form, wherein 
disparate elements were brought and held together as a balanced 
whole, seems to me to indicate that some such psychological 
problem must already have begun to emerge. 

We have already noted, too, that in the pottery styles of this 
period various symbols appear: in the Halaf style of the north- 
western area, just southward of the Taurus (Bull) Mountains of 
Anatolia (now Turkey), the form of a bull's head in association 
with figurines of the goddess, and with clay figures of the dove, 
cow, humped ox, sheep, goat, and pig. It was just to the north of 
this fruitful area, beyond the Black Sea, in the Ukraine, that a 
great number of paleolithic figurines of the goddess had appeared 
in the Aurignacian. That a connection must be supposed would 
seem to be clear. 

Furthermore, we have noted that the symbols stressed in the 
Halaf ware are not quite the same as those of the Samarra style, 
which, with its chief area of distribution farther south and east- 
ward, extended into Iran. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is 
that a number of mythological systems had been caught in the 
vortex of the new mythogenetic zone, and this conclusion is sup- 
ported by the evidence of the later, literate period, when the 
earliest written documents appear, first in Sumer and then in 
neighboring Egypt. The impression one gets from these is of a 
considerable hodge-podge of differing mythologies being co- 
ordinated, synthesized, and syncretized by the new professional 
priesthoods. And how could the situation have been otherwise, 
when it was the serpent of the jungle and the bull of the steppes 
that were being brought together? They were soon to become 
melted and fused— recompounded— in such weird chimeric 
creatures as the bull-homed serpents, fish-tailed bulls, and lion- 



headed eagles that from now on would constitute the typical ap- 
paritions of an extremely sophisticated new world of myth. 

4. In the epoch of the hieratic city state (3500-2500 B.C.), the 
basic cultural traits of all the high civilizations that have flourished 
since (writing, the wheel, the calendar, mathematics, royalty, 
priestcraft, a system of taxation, bookkeeping, etc.) suddenly ap- 
pear, prehistory ends, and the literate era dawns. The whole city 
now, and not simply the temple compound, is conceived of as an 
imitation on earth of the cosmic order, while a highly differentiated, 
complexly organized society of specialists, comprising priestly, 
warrior, merchant, and peasant classes, is found governing all its 
secular as well as specifically religious affairs according to an 
astronomically inspired mathematical conception of a sort of 
magical consonance uniting in perfect harmony the universe 
(macrocosm), society (mesocosm), and the individual (micro- 
cosm).* A natural accord of earthly, heavenly, and individual 
affairs is imagined; and the game is no longer that of the buffalo 
dance or metamorphosed seed, but the pageant of the seven spheres 
—Mercury, Venus, Mars, J upiter, Saturn, the moon, and the sun. 
These in their mathematics are the angelic messengers of the 
universal law. For there is one law, one king, one state, one 
universe. And beyond the walls of our little city state is darkness; 
but within is the order intended from all eternity for man, sup- 
ported by the pivot of the king, who in his saintly imitation of the 
moon has purged from his heart all deviant impulse and been 
transubstantiated. He is the earthly moon, according to that 
magical law wherein A is B. His queen is the sun. The virgin 
priestess who will accompany him in death and be the bride of his 
resurrection is the planet Venus. And his four chief ministers of 
state— the lords of the treasury and of war, prime minister, and 
lord executioner— incarnate the powers, respectively, of the 
planets Mercury, Mars, J upiter, and Saturn. Sitting about him in 
his throne room— when the moon is full and he therefore reveals 
himself, wearing, however, the veil that protects the world from 
his full radiance— the king and his court are the heavens them- 
selves on earth. 

*Cf. supra, pp. 146-150. 


What a marvelous game! 

In the neighboring pinpoint on the map, perhaps, the king 
would be the sun, his queen the moon, and the virgin priestess the 
planet J upiter; the game would go by a different set of rules. But 
no matter what the local rules, wherever this mad dream was 
played to the limit, the mesocosm of the local state, conceived as 
a reflection of the universe, was actually a reflection of something 
from deep within man himself, pulled from his heart as the paint- 
ings were in the great caves, evoked now by the void of the uni- 
verse itself— the labyrinth of the night and its threading ad- 
venturers on their mysterious journeys, the planets and the moon. 

Moreover, in the symbolism of this new and larger play of 
destiny, the earlier themes were all subsumed— those of both the 
monster serpent and the animal master— to produce a far more 
sophisticated, multidimensional symbolic play, qualitatively dif- 
ferent and far more potent, both to evoke and to order the multi- 
farious energies of the psyche, than anything the primitive world 
had ever produced. 

Perhaps the most amazing revelation that has ever come to us 
of what mythology meant in that remote, heaven- guided age, when 
the awesome mystery of the planets was enacted on earth by 
divine kings who at death took with them— back into the night 
sea— the whole cast of characters of their pageant, has been that 
of the "royal tombs" of Ur in the cemetery of the sacred Sumerian 
city of the moon- god Nanna. The excavated graves, as Sir Leonard 
Woolley, their discoverer, declares, included burials of two sorts: 
those of commoners and those of kings— or perhaps, as certain 
others now suggest, not of kings but of their substitutes, the priests 
who assumed their roles when their moment came to die. And it 
was noted that whereas the older of the private graves, though 
clustered around the royal tombs, were respectful of their sanctity, 
the newer graves invaded the royal burials, as though, their 
memory having faded, there had been left in later ages only a 
vague tradition that this was holy ground. 12 

The first of the royal tombs discovered had been plundered by 
grave robbers, so that little remained for the twentieth century 



A.D.; however, something more than even the boldest imagination 
might have conceived soon came to light. Wrote Sir Leonard 
Woolley, describing the course of his dramatic discovery: 

We found five bodies lying side by side in a shallow sloping 
trench; except for the copper daggers at their waists and one 
or two small day cups they had none of the normal furniture 
of a grave, and the mere fact of there being a number thus to- 
gether was unusual. Then, below them, a layer of matting 
was found, and tracing this along we came to another group 
of bodies, those of ten women carefully arranged in two 
rows; they wore head-dresses of gold, lapis lazuli, and car- 
nelian, and elaborate bead necklaces, but they too possessed 
no regular tomb furnishings. At the end of the row lay the 
remains of a wonderful harp, the wood of it decayed but its 
decoration intact, making its reconstruction only a matter of 
care; the upright wooden beam was capped with gold, and in 
it were fastened the gold- headed nails which secured the 
strings; the sounding- box was edged with a mosaic in red 
stone, lapis lazuli and white shell, and from the front of it 
projected a splendid head of a bull wrought in gold with eyes 
and beard of lapis lazuli; across the ruins of the harp lay the 
bones of the gold- crowned harpist. 

By this time we had found the earth sides of the pit in which 
the women's bodies lay and could see that the bodies of the 
five men were on the ramp which led down to it. Following 
the pit along, we came upon more bones which at first puz- 
zled us by being other than human, but the meaning of them 
soon became dear. A little way inside the entrance to the pit 
stood a wooden sledge chariot. ... In front of the chariot 
lay the crushed skeletons of two asses with the bodies of the 
grooms by their heads, and on the top of the bones was the 
double ring, once attached to the pole, through which the 
reins had passed; it was of silver, and standing on it was a 
gold "mascot" in the form of a donkey most beautifully 
and realistically modeled. 

Close to the chariot were an inlaid gaming-board and a 
collection of tools and weapons, . . . more human bodies, 
and then the wreckage of a large wooden chest adorned with 
a figured mosaic in lapis lazuli and shell which was found 
empty but had perhaps contained such perishable things as 
clothes. Behind this box were more offerings. . . . The 
objects were removed and we started to clear away the re- 
mains of the wooden box, a chest some 6 feet long and 3 



feet across, when under it we found burnt bricks. They were 
fallen, but at one end some were still in place and formed 
the ring- vault of a stone chamber. The first and natural sup- 
position was that here we had the tomb to which all the offer- 
ings belonged, but further search proved that the chamber 
was plundered, the roof had not fallen from decay but had 
been broken through, and the wooden box had been placed 
over the hole as if deliberately to hide it. Then, digging round 
the outside of the chamber, we found just such another pit 
as that 6 feet above. At the foot of the ramp lay six soldiers, 
orderly in two ranks, with copper spears by their sides and 
copper helmets crushed flat on the broken skulls; just inside, 
having evidently been backed down the slope, were two 
wooden four-wheeled wagons each drawn by three oxen— 
one of the latter so well preserved that we were able to lift the 
skeleton entire; the wagons were plain, but the reins were 
decorated with long beads of lapis and silver and passed 
through silver rings surmounted with mascots in the form of 
bulls; the grooms lay at the oxen's heads and the drivers in 
the bodies of the cars. . . . 

Against the end wall of the stone chamber lay the bodies 
of nine women wearing the gala head-dress of lapis and 
camelian beads from which hung golden pendants in the form 
of beech leaves, great lunate earrings of gold, silver "combs" 
like the palm of a hand with three fingers tipped with flowers 
whose petals are inlaid with lapis, gold, and shell, and neck- 
laces of lapis and gold; their heads were leaned against the 
masonry, their bodies extended onto the floor of the pit, and 
the whole space between them and the wagons was crowded 
with other dead, women and men, while the passage which led 
along the side of the chamber to its arched door was lined 
with soldiers carrying daggers and with women. . . . 

On the top of the bodies of the "court ladies" against the 
chamber wall had been placed a wooden harp, of which there 
survived only the copper head of a bull and the shell plaques 
which had adorned the sounding- box; by the side wall of the 
pit, also set on the top of the bodies, was a second harp with 
a wonderful bull's head in gold, its eyes, beard, and horn- 
tips of lapis, and a set of engraved shell plaques not less 
wonderful; there are four of these with grotesque scenes of 
animals playing the parts of men. . . . 

Inside the tomb the robbers had left enough to show that 
it had contained bodies of several minor people as well as 
that of the chief person, whose name, if we can trust the 



inscription on a cylinder seal, was A-bar-gi; overlooked 
against the wall we found two model boats, one of copper now 
hopelessly decayed, the other of silver wonderfully well 
preserved; some 2 feet long, it has high stan and prow, five 
seats, and amidships an arched support for the awning which 
would protect the passenger, and the leaf-bladed oars are still 
set in fire thwarts; it is a testimony to the conservatism of the 
East that a boat of identical type is in use today on the marshes 
of the Lower Euphrates, some 50 miles from Ur. 

The king's tomb-chamber lay at the far end of this open 
pit; continuing our search behind it we found a second stone 
chamber built up against it either at the same time, or more 
probably, at a later period. This chamber, roofed like the 
king's with a vault of ring arches in burnt brick, was the 
tomb of the queen to whom belonged the upper pit with its 
ass-chariot and other offerings: her name, Shub-ad, was given 
us by a fine cylinder seal of lapis lazuli which was found in 
the fill ing of fire shaft a little above fire roof of the chamber 
and had probably been thrown into the pit at the moment 
whar the earth was bang put back into it. The vault of the 
chamber had fallen in, but luckily this was due to the weight 
of earth above, not to the violence of tomb- robbers; the tomb 
itself was intact. 

At one end, on fire remains of a wooden bier, lay the body 
of the queen, a gold cup near her hand, the upper part of fire 
body was entirely hidden by a mass of beads of gold, silver, 
lapis lazuli, camelian, agate, and chalcedony, long strings of 
which, hanging from a collar, had formed a cloak reaching 
to the waist and bordered below with a broad band of tubular 
beads of lapis, camelian, and gold : against fire right arm were 
three long gold pins with lapis beads and three amulets in fire 
form of fish, two of gold and one of lapis, and a fourth in fire 
form of two seated gazelles, also of gold. 

The head-dress whose remains covered the crushed skull 
was a more elaborate edition of that worn by fire court ladies: 
its basis was a broad gold ribbon festooned in loops round fire 
hair— and the measurement of curves showed that this was 
not fire natural hair but a wig padded out to an almost gro- 
tesque size. ... By fire side of fire body lay a second head- 
dress of a novel sort. Onto a diadem made apparently of a 
strip of soft white leather had been sewn thousands of minute 
lapis lazuli beads, and against this background of solid blue 
were set a row of exquisitely fashioned gold animals, stags, 
gazelles, bulls, and goats, with between them clusters of 



pomegranates, three fruits hanging together shielded by their 
leaves, and branches of some other tree with golden stems and 
fruit or pods of gold and camelian, while gold rosettes were 
sewn on at intervals, and from the lower border of the diadem 
hung palmettes of twisted gold wire. 

The bodies of two women attendants were crouched against 
the bier, one at its head and one at its foot, and all about the 
chamber lay strewn offerings of all sorts, another gold bowl, 
vessels of silver and copper, stone bowls, and day jars for 
food, the head of a cow in silver, two silver tables for offerings, 
silver lamps, and a number of large cockle-shells containing 
green paint . . . , presumably used as a cosmetic . 13 

"Clearly," writes Sr Leonard at the oondusion of this vivid 
description of his truly astounding discovery, "when a royal per- 
son died, he or she was accompanied to the grave by all the mem- 
bers of the court: the king had at least three people with him in 
his chamber and sixty-two in the death-pit; the queen was content 
with some twenty- live in all ." 14 

Several more such tombs were discovered, some even larger 
than the dual burial of King A-bar-gi and his queen Shub-ad— he 
and his court having bear buried first and she and hers above, as 
when the moon sets and the planet Venus follows. In the largest 
tomb the bodies of sixty-eight women were found, "disposed in 
regular rows across the floor, every one lying on her side with 
legs slightly bent and hands brought, up near her face, so dose 
together that the heads of those in one row rested on the legs of 
those in the row above ." 15 Twenty- eight of these women had 
worn hair-ribbons of gold, and all but one of the rest predsdy 
the same type of ribbon of silver. All had been dothed in red 
cloaks, having beaded culls and shell- ring belts, and they had been 
adorned with great lunate earrings and multiple necklaces of blue 
and gold. Four wen harpists, and these were grouped together with 
a copper caldron beside them, which Woolley assodates with the 
manner of their death, suggesting that it contained the drink that 
bore this multitude through the winged gate to the other world. 
"Clearly," he writes, 

these people wee not wretched slaves killed as oxen might be 
killed, but persons hdd in honor, wearing their robes of 



office, and coming, one hopes, voluntarily to a rite which 
would in their belief be but a passing from one world to 
another, from the service of a god on earth to that of the same 
god in another sphere. . . . Human sacrifice was confined 
exclusively to the funerals of royal persons, and in the graves 
of commoners, however rich, there is no sign of anything of 
the sort, not even such substitutes, day figurines, etc., as are so 
common in Egyptian tombs and appear there to be reminiscent 
of an undent and more bloody rite. In much later times 
Sumerian kings were deified in their lifetime and honored as 
gods after their death: the pre-historic kings of Ur were in 
their obsequies so distinguished from their subjeds because 
they too were looked upon as superhuman, earthly deities; 
and when the chroniclers wrote in the annals of Sumer that 
"after the Flood kingship again descended from the gods," 
they meant no less than this. If the king, then, was a god, 
he did not die as men die, but was translated; and it might 
therefore be not a hardship but a privilege for those of his 
court to accompany their master and continue in his service . 16 

"It is safe to assume," he says in conclusion, "that those who 
were to be sacrificed went down alive into the pit. That they were 
dead, or at least unconscious, when the earth was flung in and 
trampled down on the top of them is an equally safe assump- 
tion . . . , they are in such good order and alignment that we are 
driven to suppose that after they were lying unconscious someone 
entered the pit and gave the final touches to their arrangement. 
. . . It is most probable that the victims walked to their places, 
took some kind of drug— opium or hashish would serve— and lay 
down in order; after the drug had worked, whether it produced 
sleep or death, the last touches were given to their bodies and the 
pit was filled in." 17 

And what of the one young lady without a ribbon either of gold 
or of silver? Actually, she had had a ribbon of silver on her per- 
son. It was discovered among the bones of her skeleton at about 
the level of the waist: "carried apparently in the woman's pocket, 
it was just as she had taken it from her room, done up in a tight 
coil with the ends brought over to prevent its coming undone." 18 
She had been late, apparently, for the ceremony and had not had 
time to put it on. 


Here, then, is the prototype of the miserable little Shilluk affair 
of the king buried with a living virgin, whose bones then would 
be gathered with his into the hide of a bull. For it was the moon- 
bull, the symbol of the lunar destiny of all things and the mathe- 
matics of the universe, that sang to these people their song of 
dreams. A magical eguation had been conceived: the bull and the 
cow (as in the cavern of Tuc dAudoubert) : : the monster serpent 
and the maiden (as in the ritual of the Dema) : : the moon and 
the planet Venus (which as evening and as morning star is the 
herald both of night- sleep- death and of dawn-rebirth):: the fer- 
tilizing waters of the abyss and the seed that is to bear much fruit: : 
the king and the queen. 

Among the cylinder seals of Mesopotamia, where many of the 
basic motifs of the earliest mythology of this dawning age were 
aphoristically illustrated, there is an image, more than once en- 
countered, in which, on a fleece- covered couch having legs shaped 
like those of a bull, a male and female lie extended with a priest 
officiating at their feet. "It seems certain," Dr. Henri Frankfort 
observes, "that we have here the ritual wedding of the god and 
goddess. " 19 But in the period of the hieratic city state (though not 
in the later periods of Mesopotamia) the god and goddess were 
incarnate in the king and queen. In the queen's chamber of the 
royal tomb, as we have seen, there was "the head of a cow in 
silver." The king's chamber had been plundered, but there were 
harps fashioned in such a way that their bodies terminated in 
beautiful heads of gold— the heads of bulls with lapis lazuli beards: , 
mythological bulls (supernormal images) from which the music 
of the myth and this ritual of destiny derived. It is not known by 
what means the kings were killed (or the priests who may have 
been serving by this time as their substitutes, about 2500 B.C.); 
but the manner of Shub-ad's death is perfectly clear. "On the 
remains of a wooden bier lay the body of the queen, a gold cup 
near her hand." 20 Her court was interred above his, but her own 
tomb had been sunk to the level of A-bar-gi's and placed beside it. 

The myth being enacted in this mad rite was that of the ever- 
dying and resurrected god, "The Faithful Son of the Abyss," or 



"The Son of the Abyss who Rises," Damuzi-absu, or Tammuz 
(Adonis). The queen of heaven, the daughter of God, goddess of 
the morning and evening star, the hierodule or slave- girl dancer 
of the gods— who, as the morning star, is ever- virgin, but, as eve- 
ning star, is "the divine harlot," and whose names in a later age 
were to be Ishtar, Aphrodite, and Venus— "from the 'great above 1 
set her mind toward the 'great below,' abandoned heaven, aban- 
doned earth, and to the nether world descended," to release her 
brother and spouse from the land of no return. 

By chance a fragment of her legend from the period of the 
tombs of Ur survives; and we have, also, just such a hymn as the 
tongues of the women of the gold and silver ribbons sang to the 
harps of the moon-bull that were found still in the grasp of the 
girl- harpists' skeleton arms: 

Mayest thou go, thou shalt cause him to rejoice, 

O valorous one, star of Heaven, go to greet him. 

To cause Damu to repose, mayest thou go. 

Thou shalt cause him to rejoice. 

To the shepherd Ur-Nammu mayest thou go. 

Thou shalt cause him to rejoice. 

To the man Dungi mayest thou go. 

Thou shalt cause him to rejoice. 

To the shepherd Bur- Sin mayest thou go. 

Thou shalt cause him to rejoice. 

To the man Gimil-Sin mayest thou go. 

Thou shalt cause him to rejoice. 

To the shepherd Ibi-Sin mayest thou go. 

Thou shalt cause him to rejoice. 21 

The five last titles are the names, in order, of the last kings of 
the Third Dynasty of Ur (about 2150-2050 B.C.)* and express 
well the fundamental concept of this whole archaic world, which 
was that the reality, the true being, of the king— as of any indi- 
vidual— is not in his character as individual but as archetype. He 

* The dating of the dynasty varies accoiding to the current authority. 
The dates above are from S. N. Kramer, Sumerian Mythology (Memoirs 
of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. XXI, 1944), p. 19. Henri 
Frankfort terminates the period 2025 B.c. (The Birth of Civilization in the 
Near East [London: Williams and Norgate, 19511, p. 77). Woolley's dates 
were 2278-2170 B.c (The Sumerians [1928], p. 22). 


is the good shepherd, the protector of cows; and the people are 
his flock, his herd. Or he is the one who walks in the garden, the 
gardener; the one who gives life to the fields, the farmer of the gods. 
Again, he is the builder of the city, the culture- bringer, the teacher 
of the arts. And he is the lord of the celestial pastures, the 
moon, the sun. The five kings— Ur- Nammu, Dungi, Bur- Sin, Gimil- 
Sin, and Ibi-Sin— are the same, namely, Damu, the ever- living, ever- 
dying god; just as the Queen is Inanna, the naked goddess, whom 
we have known since the beginning of time. 

From the "great above" she set her mind toward the "great 
below, " 

The goddess, from the "great above" she set her mind toward 
the "great below," 

Inanna, from the "great above" she set her mind toward the 
"great below. " 

My lady abandoned heaven, abandoned earth. 

To the nether world she descended, 

Inanna abandoned heaven, abandoned earth. 

To the nether world she descended. 

Abandoned lordship, abandoned ladyship. 

To the netherworld she descended. 

The seven divine decrees she fastened at her side. 

The shugurra, the crown of the plain, she put upon her head. 

Radiance she placed upon her countenance. 

The rod of lapis lazuli she gripped in her hand. 

Small lapis lazuli stones she tied about her neck. 

Sparkling stones she fastened to her breast, 

A gold ring she gripped in her hand, 

A breastplate she bound about her breast. 

All the garments of ladyship she arranged about her body. 

Ointment she put upon her face. 

Inanna walked toward the nether world. 22 

Thus our precious fragment begins. The goddess is walking to 
the nether world, which is ruled by the dark side of her own self, 
her sister- goddess Ereshkigal. And she comes to the first gate. 

When Inanna had arrived at the lapis lazuli palace of the 
nether world. 

At the door of the nether world she acted evilly. 



In the palace of the nether world she spoke evilly: 

"Open the house, gatekeeper, open the house. 

Open the house, Neti, open the house, all alone I would 

Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the nether world, answers the 
pure Inanna: 

"Who, pray, art thou?" 

"1 am the queen of heaven, the place where the sun rises." 

"If thou art the queen of heaven, the place where the sun rises. 
Why, pray, hast thou come to the land of no return? 

How has thy heart led thee to the road whose traveler does 
not return?" 

The pure Inanna answers him: 

"Ereshkigal, my elder sister. 

The lord Gugalanna, her husband, has been killed: 

I have come to attend the funeral." 

The chief gatekeeper of the nether world, Neti, answers the 
pure Inanna: 

"Stay, Inanna, let me speak to my queen." 

He goes, and returns. Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the nether 
world, speaks to the pure Inanna: 

"Come, Inanna, enter." 

And the following dialogue then comes to pass. 

Upon her entering the first gate. 

The shugurra, the "crown of the plain" of her head, was re- 

"What, pray, is this?" 

"Extraordinarily, O Inanna, have the decrees of the nether 
world been perfected, 

O Inanna, do not question the rites of the nether world. " 

Upon her entering the second gate. 

The rod of lapis lazuli was removed. 

"What, pray, is this?" 

"Extraordinarily, O Inanna, have the decrees of the nether 
world been perfected, 

O Inanna, do not question the rites of the nether world." 

Upon her entering the third gate. 

The small lapis lazuli stones of her neck were removed. 



"What, pray, is this?" 

"Extraordinarily, O Inanna, have the decrees of the nether 
world been perfected, 

O Inanna, do not question the rites of the nether world." 

Upon her entering the fourth gate. 

The sparkling stones of her breast were removed. 

"What, pray, is this?" 

"Extraordinarily, O Inanna, have the decrees of the nether 
world been perfected, 

O Inanna, do not question the rites of the nether world." 

Upon her entering the fifth gate. 

The gold ring of her hand was removed. 

"What, pray, is this?" 

"Extraordinarily, O Inanna, have the decrees of the nether 
world been perfected, 

O Inanna, do not question the rites of the nether world." 

Upon her entering the seventh gate. 

All the garments of her body were removed. 

"What, pray, is this?" 

"Extraordinarily, O Inanna, have the decrees of the nether 
world been perfected, 

O Inanna, do not question the rites of the nether world." 

Thus, naked, the goddess came before her sister and the seven 
judges of the nether world, Ereshkigal and the Anunnaki. 

The pure Ereshkigal seated herself upon her throne. 

The Anunnaki, the seven judges, pronounced judgement be- 
fore her. 

They fastened their eyes upon her, the eyes of death. 

At their word, the word that tortures the spirit. 

The sick woman was turned into a corpse. 

And the corpse was hung from a stake . 23 

But death, as we are taught in all the mythological traditions of 
the world, is not the end. The lesson of the moon- god, three days 
dark, is still to be told. Inanna's corpse remained on the stake. 

After three days and three nights had passed. 

Her messenger Ninshubur, 

Her messenger of favorable winds. 

Her carrier of supporting words. 

Filled the heaven with complaints for her. 



Cried for her in the assembly shrine. 

Rushed about for her in the house of the gods. 

Like a pauper in a single garment he dressed for her. 

To the Ekur, the house of Enlil, all alone he directed his step. 

Ninshubur, known too as Papsukkal, "chief messenger of the 
gods," and Ilabrat, "the god of wings," was told by the goddess 
before her departure that if she did not return he should "Weep 
before Enlil (the air- god), weep before Nanna (the moon- god), 
and if these failed to respond, then weep before Enki, the lord of 
Wisdom (the serpent), who knows the food of life and the water 
of life. He," she said, "will surely bring me to life." 

The clay figurines of Ninshubur, the messenger, found in founda- 
tion boxes beneath the doors of temples, show him without wings 
but bearing a staff or wand in his right hand . 24 He is the proto- 
type of Hermes (Mercury), the Olympian messenger of the gods 
and the guide of souls to the underworld, who also brings souls 
to be bom again and so is regarded as the generator both of new 
lives and of the New Life. Hermes' staff, it will be recalled, is the 
caduceus, with entwined serpents. But the meaning of these ser- 
pents is precisely the same as that of the ritual and myth we are 
now discussing: namely, it is a reference to the divine, world- 
renovating connubium of the monster serpent with the naked 
goddess in her serpent form. 

Wishing to be certain of the reference of the sign of the cadu- 
ceus, Dr. Henri Frankfort once sent an inquiry to the British 
Museum of Natural History. "The symbol in which you are inter- 
ested may well represent two snakes pairing," Mr. H. W. Parker, 
Assistant Keeper of Zoology, replied. "As a general rule the male 
seizes the female by the back of the neck and the two bodies are 
more or less intertwined. . . . Vipers are said to have the bodies 
completely intertwined." "This, then," comments Dr. Frankfort, 
"explains most satisfactorily why the caduceus should have become 
the symbol of our god, who is thus characterized as the personifica- 
tion of the generative force of Nature ." 25 

Hermes, the Greek carrier of the serpent staff— which is both 
beautiful and terrible and both bestows sleep and awakens— is the 



inventor of the lyre and of the art of making fire with the fire- 
sticks. He is, furthermore, the archetypal trickster god of the an- 
cient world. We think of the bull-voiced lyres of the graves of Ur 
and of the Greek orgies where "bull-voices roared from somewhere 
out of the unseen" (Aeschylus, Fragment 57). We think of the 
young boy and girl of the fire- sticks in Africa, and their shocking 
rite* And we think, too, of Coyote- trickster, who turned himself 
into a girl and became pregnant. Hermes, too, is androgyne, as one 
should know from the sign of his staff. 

When the messenger, Ninshubur, then, Hermes' protoype, had 
wept to no effect first before Enlil and then before the moon- god, 
Nanna, of the city of Ur, he turned to Enki, "Lord of the Waters 
of the Abyss, " who, when he had heard, cried out: 

"What now has my daughter done! I am troubled. 

What now has Inanna done! I am troubled. 

What now has the queen of all the lands done! I am troubled. 

What now has the hierodule of heaven done! I am troubled." 

He brought forth dirt and fashioned two sexless creatures, two 
angels. To the one he gave the food of life; to the other he gave 
the water of life. And then he issued his commands. 

"Upon the corpse hung from a stake direct the fear of the 
rays of fire. 

Sixty times the food of life, sixty times the water of life, sprinkle 
upon it. 

Verily Inanna will arise. " 

Upon the corpse hung from a stake they directed the fear 
of the rays of fire. 

Sixty times the food of life, sixty times the water of life, they 
sprinkled upon it, 

Inanna arose. 

Inanna ascended from the nether world. 

The Anunnaki fled. 

And whoever of the nether world had descended peacefully 
to the nether world; 

When Inanna ascended from the nether world. 

Verily the dead hastened ahead of her. 

* Supia, p. 169. 



Inanna ascends from the nether world. 

The small demons like reeds. 

The large demons like tablet styluses. 

Walk at her side. . . 26 

The conclusion of the piece is missing. But the import of the 
image is clear enough. It is a theme that has been given many 
turns in the course of the centuries since. One thinks, for example, 
of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, weeping outside the tomb; and 
as she wept she stooped to look within. But she saw two angels 
sitting in white where the body of J esus had been, one at the head 
and one at the feet, and they said to her, "Woman, why are you 
weeping?" She answered, "Because they have taken away my Lord, 
and I do not know where they have laid him." Saying which, she 
turned around and saw J esus standing, but did not know that it 
was J esus. He said to her: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom 
do you seek?" And supposing him to be the gardener, she said, 
"Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid 
him, and I will take him away." He said to her, "Mary!" She 
turned, and she said to him in Hebrew, "Teacher!" Jesus said to 
her, "Do not hold me; for I have not yet ascended to the Father; 
but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my 
Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Then Mary 
Magdalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the 
Lord ." 27 

III. The Great Diffusion 

Huizinga, in his highly suggestive study of the play element in 
culture. Homo Ludens, points out that the Dutch and German 
words for "duty," Plicht and Pflicht, are related etymologically to 
our English "play," the words being derived from a common 
root . 28 English "pledge," too, is of this context, as well as the 
verb "plight," meaning "to put under a pledge, to engage" (as in 
"to plight troth," "a plighted bride"). We may recall here Hui- 
zinga's reference to the Japanese "play language," or "polite lan- 
guage" (asobase-kotoba), where it is not said that "you arrive in 
Tokyo," but mat "you play arrival"; not that "I hear your father 
is dead," but that "I hear your father has played dying ." 29 "The 
play- concept as such is of a higher order than seriousness,"